(director: Francis Lawrence; screenwriters: Michael Arndt, Michael Leslie, based on the novel by Suzanne Collins; cinematographer: Jo Willems; editor: Mark Yoshikawa; music: James Newton Howard; cast: Rachel Zegler (Lucy Gray Baird), Tom Blyth (Coriolanus Snow), Jason Schwartzman (Lucretius “Lucky” Flickerman), Josh Andreas Rivers (Sejanus Plinth), Peter Dinklage (Casca Highbottom), Hunter Schafer (Tigris Snow), Viola Davis (Dr. Volumnia Gaul), Knox Gibson (Bobbin), Fionnula Flanagan (Grandma’am), Jerome Lance (Marcus), Burn Gorman (Commander Hoff), Ashley Liao (Clemensia Dovecote), Mackenzie Lansing (Coral), Nick Benson (Jessup), Cooper Dillon (Mizzen), Hiroki Berrecloth (Treech), Dimitri Abold (Reaper), Luna Steeples (Dill), Irene Böhm (Lamina), Kjell Brutscheidt (Tanner), Carl Spenser (Smiley), Max Raphael (Festus Creed), Amelie Hoeferle (Vipsania Sickle), Zoe Renee (Lysistrata Vickers), Sofia Sanchez (Wovey), Aamer Husain (Felix Ravinstill), Ayomide (Pliny “Pup” Harrington), Kaitlyn Akinpelumi (Domita Whimsiwick); Runtime: 157; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Nina Jacobson, Brad Simpson, Francis Lawrence; Lionsgate; 2023)

“Needs no more installments.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The ungainly spectacle (consisting of action, romance and musical numbers) over substance dystopian fantasy is a tedious prequel to The Hunger Games’s original film in 2012. It’s set two generations before the original film. The original struck a powerful pop culture chord with its message about female empowerment. But this one, also directed by the American filmmaker Francis Lawrence (“I Am Legend”/”Constantine”), is based on the four-part series YA novel trilogy by Suzanne Collins. It’s limply co-written by Michael Arndt and Michael Leslie, who divide the film into three chapters.

This successful blockbuster franchise (earning over 3 billion dollars, needs no more installments, it has run out of gas and just repeats itself.  You can turn out the lights because the party is over. Even if Collins penned a 2020 follow-up set 64 years before the trilogy’s beginnings, this one is overlong at close to 3 hours, has a stilted dialogue and an underwhelming story.

The story revolves around the orphaned teenage cadet from the wealthy North American fictional autocracy of Panem, Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth, Brit actor), the future tyrannical overlord. Snow’s once prominent family has fallen in status since his father’s death during the war and he is desperate to rescue his cousin Tigris (Hunter Schafer) and grandmother (Fionnula Flanagan) from poverty. Snow thereby accepts the assignment from the regime to mentor an attractive musician from the poor coal-mining District 12, Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler), as she preps to be a Tribute representing her district for the 10th Hunger Games. Snow puts his energy into getting the Plinth Prize cash awarded to the winning mentor, which will be great for his family.

The barbarian annual survival contest is televised and hosted by the smarmy ‘Lucky’ Flickerman (Jason Schwartzman) and is shown all over Panem to sell the games to the people of the regime. The cartoon-like host is good for a few laughs.

While tutoring Lucy, a cheesy romance develops between them even though they have no chemistry together.

During the games the devious Lucy hooks up with the Covey traveling band of Appalachian country folk singers to gain sponsors. The games are brutal as designed by the campy wicked Dr. Volumnia Gaul (Viola Davis), whose obsessed with using venomous snakes to test the competitors ability to survive. The administration of the games is by the guilt-ridden morphine addicted Casca Highbottom (Peter Dinklage).

But with no Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen, there’s no heroic character to root for as there was in the other four versions and the film flounders.