Alright, let’s get one thing straight before we get started here. Is THE HUNGER GAMES just a rip off of the Japanese cult classic BATTLE ROYALE!? Maybe. Author Suzanne Collins claims she never even heard of BATTLE ROYALE and I honestly call bullshit on that one. So let’s say the premise IS a complete rip off of BATTLE ROYALE, who cares, because it’s a pretty bad ass premise. Force a large group of youngsters to battle to the death on live TV or else they will be killed. Sweet! The main difference here is that instead of a bunch of high school aged Japanese kids, we get a bunch of pretty looking white kids that are probably huge fans of the show FRIENDS, that is, if they are even old enough to remember what that is. Yeesh.

THE HUNGER GAMES, rip off or not, is set in the near future and tells the tale of a totalitarian nation called Panem that selects one boy and one girl from each of the twelve districts to fight to the death on live TV as punishment for a thirteenth district’s revolt. Audiences enter the scene when the young Katniss Everdeen, played by the new “it” girl Jennifer Lawrence (X-MEN: FIRST CLASS), volunteers herself to be in the games after her younger sister is chosen to be the newest member alongside the stoic Peeta Mellark, portrayed here by Josh Hutcherson (ZATHURA). What ensues is a fun adventure filled with some eccentric characters, a fair amount of action, and a surprisingly emotional story that tugged at my old heart strings a few times. Yes I have read all the books and I could compare the crap out of the two all day long without accomplishing a damn thing. Instead, I will say that I highly enjoyed my stay in Panem and can recommend this one easily to all you fence-sitters. TWILIGHT this is not.

THE HUNGER GAMES is nicely written (for the screen) and directed by Gary Ross (PLEASANTVILLE) who tightens up the narrative from the book (whoops!) and gives audiences a much more fast paced experience. While this does a great job keeping the audiences alert, it would have been nice to spend a little more time in District 12 before Katniss entered the games. I just think some of the emotional bits in the story would have resonated a bit more. While this can be considered a nitpick, it is something I kept thinking about during the film. Other than that small gripe, the pacing moves along smoothly and I was satisfied with the end result and the film’s conclusion. And like I mentioned before, if you allow yourself to be immersed in this movie, you will start to feel for these characters and their decisions. Something I did not fully expect. A pleasant surprise.

Jennifer Lawrence (Katniss) owns this movie and reminds us all why she is getting so many high profile roles these days. She’s pretty awesome and audiences are going to love this new character. She is strong, naturally beautiful, and turns into a bad ass when you put a bow and arrow in her little mitts. I consider myself a fan and will keep a close eye on Lawrence’s career. Hutcherson (Peeta) does a great job here as well and it is great seeing this actor transition into more mature roles. He is a true talent and I will be watching his career with great interest too. Peeta is a dynamic and stoic character who demands an actor that can speak volumes without saying a word. Hutcherson definitely embraces this character. Besides our main players, there are a handful of fun side characters including Woody Harrelson (CHEERS, ZOMBIELAND) as the drunken survivor of a past “games” named Haymitch Abernathy, Elizabeth Banks (SLITHER) as the colorful and bubbly Effie Trinket, and Stanley Tucci (CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER) as the games overexcited announcer. Of these characters, it is obvious the Tucci had the most fun and completely nails his performance. My main complaint with the cast is that the other tributes (kids in the games) are all very cardboard and never seem to be all that menacing or interesting. A missed opportunity for sure.

What about the action you say!? Well, let’s all keep in mind that this movie is based on a teen marketed book series and it holds a PG-13 rating. Considering the premise, you would think this should be a hard R rated film. I can only imagine how sweet this movie would be with a solid R rating. Oh wait, that movie exists and is called BATTLE ROYALE. Joking aside, pretty much all the action and violence in this movie is alluded to and I have seen much more gruesome images on cable TV. Sure there are a few intense moments here and there but it just all feels so restrained to me. Why this is considered teen reading is beyond me. I guess what I am trying to say here is that you should not go into this movie expecting gory violence and buckets of blood. Again, a missed opportunity.

In the end, I was pretty satisfied with the complete package and was not disappointed. Lawrence as Katniss was wonderful and I was surprised with how much I connected with the characters and their plights. It was fun thinking about what I would do in a lot of the situations these characters were placed in and that kept me engaged. Sure the violence could have been amped up a bit and some of the peripheral characters where stale, but the overall story and cool main characters helped balance things out a bit. THE HUNGER GAMES is not a bad film at all and should not be compared to the TWILIGHT series which is absolute rubbish (Team Jacob all the way!). So do yourself a favor, hop off that fence, and give THE HUNGER GAMES a shot.

Final Score: 7.5 out of 10