Both Stephenie Meyer's Twilight and Suzanne Collins's Hunger Games sagas invert Jan and Dean's Surf City ideal. Two boys for every girl! That ought to double the fun, but really it only multiplies the headaches. Jennifer Lawrence's earthy enchantress, Katniss Everdeen, is just figuring that out in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, directed by Francis Lawrence (taking the reins from Gary Ross), which picks up exactly where the first movie left off. Katniss has survived the kid-killing-kid games, thanks to her crackerjack archery skills and even more impressive disdain for authority. Her district co-competitor, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), who is not-so-secretly in love with her, has survived, too, but Katniss isn't sure how she feels. She's been best friends forever with another lad, Gale (Liam Hemsworth), and as Catching Fire opens, he catches her off-guard and plants one hell of a confusing kiss on her lips. Katniss may not have room in her life for one guy. What's she supposed to do with two? As it turns out, mere survival takes up most of her time. The evil elders of Panem -- led by Donald Sutherland, a naughty big-daddy silver fox if ever there was one -- recognize that her rebellious streak and celebrity status threaten their omnipotence. Their solution: forcing her to her compete in an all-star Hunger Games playoff, devising even deadlier challenges than the last time. Catching Fire suffers from the movie equivalent of middle-book syndrome: The story is on its way to being something, maybe, but doesn't add up to much itself. Still, it's entertaining as civics lessons go, and it's a more polished, assured picture than its predecessor.
Francis LawrenceJennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, Lenny Kravitz, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jena MaloneMichael Arndt, Simon Beaufoy, Suzanne CollinsNina Jacobson, Jon KilikLionsgate Films