‘Hunger Games’ hits its target — complete awesomeness

First thing’s first: “The Hunger Games” is not “Twilight.” The tween pop culture phenomena do have some things in common:  subject matter taken from crazy-popular young adult literature, brunette teen female protagonists, swoon-worthy male leads and ridiculously rabid fans. Any and all comparisons should stop there, because Katniss Everdeen could kick Bella Swan’s ass and Peeta Mellark out-adorbs Jacob Black any day.

Plus, whereas the “Twilight” adaptations are bleak, corny teen romances with sparkling vampires, “The Hunger Games” is thrilling, bloody and as sharp-witted as its target hunting expert heroine.

Jennifer Lawrence is a perfect human.

Even if you couldn’t tell a wizard from a hobbit and the closest relation you have to the teen world is your friend’s daughter’s cousin’s best friend, you probably know about Suzanne Collins’ best-selling trilogy of YA novels. In a not-so-distant future, North America has become Panem, a mostly poverty-stricken country made up of 12 Districts. As a reminder of their past rebellions and riots, each District must offer up one boy and one girl in the annual Hunger Games, a gory celebration that’s part “Survivor” and part “Gladiator,” with desperate blood-thirsty teenagers and genetically mutated insects and animals and government-controlled chaos, all in the name of some good ol’ reality television.

When her kid sister is chosen as District 12’s tribute for the Games, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) instinctually volunteers to take her place, setting in motion a chain of events that rips her from the poor Appalachia-esque District 12 to the fluffy, pastel-colored ritzy-glitzy Capitol city to the forested Games arena. Along the way she meets a myriad of characters, including fellow District 12 tribute Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), former Games winner and tribute mentor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), warm-hearted stylist Cinna and cold-hearted Panem leader President Snow (Donald Sutherland), among others.

To go too in-depth about the events once the Games start would be a bore to faithful readers of the novels and spoilers to the uninitiated. Needless to say, the movie is well-paced, well-acted and just about as near a perfect book-to-screen adaptation as one could hope for.

Lawrence carries the movie, commanding all the scenes she’s in even when she doesn’t say a word. She’s the perfect embodiment of Katniss: a gorgeous girl who doesn’t know she’s pretty; a young woman who’s so selfless that she’d do anything for the ones she loves, including killing others; an ace with a bow and arrow; a girl who starts a fire in the hearts of her viewers and, ultimately, sets the sparks for a rebellion. She’s undoubtedly headed toward super stardom, but for now she just seems so welcomingly normal and relatable, two traits that made her the obvious choice for the role over any pouty-lipped waif-like starlet.

Ross and the other Casting Gods blessed viewers with a supporting cast of actors who so obviously love what they’re doing that it’s impossible not to love what you’re seeing. Hutcherson, as a baker’s boy who’s had a crush on Katniss for about ever, is a book-to-screen translation that’s perfection is rivaled only by Katniss herself. He’s nice and cute at all the right times, and his enthusiasm for the role doesn’t ever feel fake.

Harrelson isn’t given enough screen time as book fave Haymitch, but the time he does have is filled with one-liners and witty bickering with his co-stars. Elizabeth Banks as Capitol PR extraordinaire Effie Trinket does her thing in a Lady-Gaga-meets-Marie-Antoinette get up, while Stanley Tucci winks and cheeses as television host/personality Cesar Flickerman. Even Liam Hemsworth as Gale, Katniss’s childhood friend (and future third angle of the series’ love triangle), manages to charm in the 5 minutes he’s actually around.

Complaints are going to come about the camera-work, which is often as shaky as an amateur home video, but the rough angles are a clever way to avoid facing too much of the brutality of kids killing kids. It also gives the film a personal touch, serving as a reminder that, as ridiculous as the whole premise seems, it could be a lot closer to home and reality than, say, a wizarding boarding school in London.

Diehard fans of the books are going to quibble about rushed characterization and relationships that seem to form at the snap of a finger, but the biggest flaw is what should be one of the movie’s strengths: the relationship between Katniss and Peeta. It’s not that the actors lack chemistry (Hutcherson could probably make chemistry with anything that moved, he’s that adorable), but without the luxury of Katniss’s inner thoughts, audiences aren’t given the full effect of her feigned feelings for Peeta. She doesn’t develop real feelings for him until later in the series, and most of the early stages of their blossoming love are based on playing up the star-crossed lovers card for eager Games audiences. This is glossed over for the film, and it’s harder to determine when Katniss is just kissing for the camera.

“The Hunger Games” adaptation could have been too rigid or serious, a problem the “Harry Potter” movies sometimes faced, or it could have been a corny mess, i.e. “Percy Jackson and the Olympians.” Instead, it’s one of the best book-to-screen flicks audiences have seen in a long time, an epic trilogy opener that’ll satisfy fans and newcomers alike. The marvel and tragedy of the books are translated to Hollywood awesomeness, thanks to a man named Gary Ross, a girl named Jennifer Lawrence, and, honestly, whoever thought it’d be cool to cast Lenny Kravitz.

Speakeasy Rating: A

“The Hunger Games”

Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson

Rated PG-13 for intense violent thematic material and disturbing images – all involving teens

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