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'Divergent' has promise but feels a little too familiar

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Divergent

Rating:
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Release date: March 21, 2014

Directed by: Neil Burger

Based on the novel by Veronica Roth

Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Ashley Judd, Miles Teller, and Kate Winslet

Official website: DivergenttheMovie.com

Adapting the young adult section at Barnes and Noble is all the rage these days. The bad news is "Divergent" is yet another post-apocalyptic novel adaptation aimed at the teenage girls. The good news is you don't have to read these books to follow the simplistic plot. Actually, a general understanding of how high school works is all you need. Yeah. It's one of those movies.

"Divergent" is set in dystopian future in which society is struggling with how to function. In this case, what is left of society has walled itself into the ruins of Chicago, having divided its population into five factions: Abnegnation, the self-less who make the laws; Erudite, the brainiacs who want to make the laws; Candor, the honest ones; Amity, the hippies; and then there is Dauntless, the bad asses who defend the city.

The heroine at the heart of the story is Tris, aka Beatrice, who is born and raised in Abnegnation, but dreams of a more exciting life. Now when these kids turn 16, they go through a process that determines their future career path. They take a test which designates where they should go but then they actually get to choose which faction they join.

This is where things get tricky. And kinda lame. But also interesting. Tris is what is called a Divergent, which means she tests compatible with at least three different factions. But Divergents are considered dangerous because of their free thought and will and because they can't be controlled are supposed to be eliminated if discovered. It's kind of a tease because it feels like the mystery of the Divergents is leading to something bigger but it never does. It offers some interesting philosophical questions but never tries to dig too deep into its own theories.

Shailene Woodley does her best with what little depth of character she is given and she has some genuine chemistry with her co-star Theo James. Actually the cast overall is pretty solid. Ashley Judd turns in a good performance as Tris' mother. Oddly, Kate Winslet is the only one who seems out of place, playing an over the top Erudite elitist with treacherous plans.

Director Neil Berger keeps it interesting. But the source material is pretty much five-alarm high school drama disguised with fancy sets and impressive action sequences. It bottoms out with a lot of typical teen themes about bullying and fitting in and abuse and sexual insecurity that will certainly hit home with fans of the books and the teen target audience, but will come off as laughable to those who have grown to realize how ridiculous high school problems really are.

The most unfortunate part is that "Divergent" may in some ways be superior to "The Hunger Games" flicks -- there is some fun action and a wider range of human emotion on display -- but the followers are always going to look like they're trying to duplicate a formula. And for anything that it has going for it, there isn't enough to set it uniquely apart from the rest of the crowd.

Running time: 2 hours 19 mins

Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense violence and action, thematic elements and some sensuality

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