[Screen It]


(2015) (Shailene Woodley, Theo James) (PG-13)

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Action: A teenager of the distant future where the populace has been divided into five prescribed personality and behavior-based factions tries to stop the leader of one from killing others.
In the distant future, war has ravaged most of the planet and what's left of Chicago has been turned into a walled-in fortress. In order to maintain the peace and keep everyone in line, the populace has been divided into six factions. There's Abnegation (the selfless), Amity (the peaceful), Candor (the honest), Dauntless (the brave protectors), Erudite (the Intelligent), and Factionless (those who don't fit into the previous five and are essentially homeless scavengers).

And then there are the so-called divergents who don't fit squarely into any of the categories and thus are deemed as a threat to the status quo. One of them is Beatrice "Tris" Prior (SHAILENE WOODLEY), a teenager who saw her parents, part of the Abnegation group, killed by forces controlled by Erudite leader Jeanine Matthews (KATE WINSLET). Tris and her former instructor turned lover, Tobias "Four" Eaton (THEO JAMES), managed to stop her and escape, and are now hiding out in a commune of sorts -- ruled by Johanna (OCTAVIA SPENCER) -- with Tris' brother, Caleb (ANSEL ELGORT) and Peter (MILES TELLER) who previously trained with Tris and Four.

Tris knows they must kill Jeanine to stop her reign of terror, a sentiment shared by Four's estranged mother, Evelyn (NAOMI WATTS). But Jeanine is rounding up all divergents in hopes that one of them will be able to unlock and open a special box left by one of the original founders and hear the message inside. Accordingly, she's sent ruthless Dauntless leader, Eric (JAI COURTNEY), and his goons to find such divergents. They end up shooting mind control projectiles into various people in order to command their suicides and thus incentivize Tris to give herself up and go through five potentially fatal simulations to unlock that box.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
I have a number of friends -- critics and laypeople alike -- who have savant like abilities when it comes to movies and those involved in the making of them. Give them a performer's name and they can rattle off the films in which they've appeared. Mention a movie from a few or many years back and they can tell you the entire plot, sometimes including verbatim lines of dialogue.

In my younger days, I once had some of those cinematic powers. Now, due to age and possibly having seen too many films, such abilities have lessened to the point that I often have to reread an old review of mine to "remember" what happened in a given offering. That's particularly true of films that are mediocre and/or too similar to other entries in their given genre.

Thus, it didn't surprise me when I had to go back and read up on "Divergent," the 2014 adaptation of the so-called young adult novel of the same name by Veronica Roth. After all, with this recent plethora of such films featuring young protagonists in dystopian futures, that pic simply had blended in with the rest.

What surprised me, however, is that a number of other reviewers likewise said they had to go back and reread their reviews just to remember what happened in that film in order to get themselves prepared to see its sequel, "Insurgent" (technically titled "The Divergent Series: Insurgent," but that's too many gents for any one label).

It's quite likely all of us will have to do that again a year from now with "The Divergent Series: Allegiant - Part 1" and then a year after that with "The Divergent Series: Allegiant - Part 2." And that's because this installment is just as easily forgettable as last year's.

With the surviving characters (and one dead one) picking up where we last left off -- all guided by new director Robert Schwentke who's working from a script by the new trio of writers: Brian Duffield, Akiva Goldsman, and Mark Bomback -- the plot definitely has that middle installment vibe permeating its being. Whereas the first at least had the task of introducing the parameters of this world and the characters operating in it, and the final chapter(s) will wrap everything up, this simply feels like filler.

Fortunately, it gets a little bit of a lift from the presence of the terrific Shailene Woodley who reprises her lead role and gives that character some emotional depth. Sadly, with the introductory elements now out of the way, there's little actual plot here with which she can work. In short, she and her former instructor turned lover (a returning Theo James) want to put an end to the tyranny of the faction leader played by Kate Winslet. In turn, her character has come into the possession of a special box reportedly left by one of the original founders. The only problem is that a so-called divergent is apparently the only person who can open it via going through five computer-driven simulations. The stakes are raised when a number of those divergents perish when pushed into such service, and that's supposed to make us worry about Tris when it becomes her inevitable turn.

Alas, while the special effects are decently done and the action scenes adequately handled (most notably with Tris on the outside of a flying, burning and then rotating house that crashes into various buildings), we don't really care. That's not only due to realizing there are still two installments to go (and thus the safety of the protagonist is all but insured), but also because the story material leading up to that simply isn't that engaging.

Its worse sin, though, might be the colossal waste of talent, and not just Woodley and Winslet but also Miles Teller. Seeing him in "Whiplash" and "The Spectacular Now" shows what he's capable of doing with the right material, character and director. Here, he comes off as just a replaceable cog in a sequel that's thankfully twenty minutes shorter than its predecessor, but otherwise just as forgettable. "The Divergent Series: Insurgent" rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed March 16, 2014 / Posted March 20, 2014

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