<b>J-LAW OF THE LAND:</b> Reprising her role as Katniss, Jennifer Lawrence is easily the best part of this plodding lead-up to the <i>Hunger Games</i> finale.

This may be all the evidence of Jennifer Lawrence’s genius we need. As Katniss, the girl on fire, she visits a bombed-out site. The ruins look like a cheesy old Conan movie, and director Francis Lawrence films it so poorly that he makes a killing field seem boring. But when J-Law falls to her knees and mourns, summoning from some unbelievable well of acting talent, she manages to sell the scene.

It’s no exaggeration to say that she makes the whole movie. In fact, there are few other pleasures in this lead-up to the franchise’s finale. The story picks up in the aftermath of Katniss’s unwittingly setting off a revolution in the mythical post-apocalyptic pseudo-Roman nation of Panem, which leaves her beloved Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) in the hands of the evil Capitol. Dividing the Hunger Games trilogy into a quadrology probably made sense from the accounting department’s perspective, and true-blue fans probably don’t mind, either. It seems every sentence Suzanne Collins wrote is preserved in some plodding sequence here: longing looks over a pool of water, a pointless encounter with deer in the woods, or the minutia of propaganda filmmaking. But director Francis Lawrence seems to be gluing together skits instead of making a coherent film. Each scene represents some highlight, yet there isn’t much rhythm, and little of the dread the books convey. It’s hard to feel much because he avoids showing us anything actually touching, like Katniss’s obsessive relationship with Peeta, for instance. The only reason we know she loves him is because she keeps telling us.

Meanwhile, Jennifer Lawrence commandeers the screen, even when she is acting from confusing and contradicting motivations. If there is any justice, this movie will bridge to a super-spectacular final film, but I’ve lost faith. We need more from a futuristic love-triangle apocalypse than one strong performance. What’s missing is the stuff that makes moviegoing fun


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