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Movie review: 'Divergent' just more of the same

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Divergent

Rating:
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It's got a sappy love story, mindless action and a convoluted, science-fiction-themed plot. In other words, of course Divergent (opening today) is going to be a huge box-office smash!

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But if there was any decency in the world, Divergent would be rejected for the shallow, dull carbon copy movie that it is. Sure, there is an instant comparison between this and The Hunger Games, with the strong heroine at the center, the future-apocalyptic setting and the presence of a huge, evil, dominant regime just itching to be overthrown.

However, comparing Divergent to The Hunger Games is like comparing a filet mignon to a McDonalds hamburger: Sure they may be made up of some of the same ingredients, but one will leave you fully satisfied, and the other is an unhealthy blend of cheap crap meant to satisfy the masses. In case you missed that, Divergent is the McDonalds hamburger. My guess though, is that most audience members are so hungry, they'll eat just about anything.

Based on the popular novel (and the first of more films to come), Divergent is the story of young Tris (Shailene Woodley) and set in a future where the world's society has been divided into different factions based on personality type. There are five factions: Abnegation, for the selfless; Candor, known for their honesty; Amity, who are peaceful and loving; Erudite, who are the brains; and Dauntless, those who are more physical and brave. Think of it as the whole world being split into high school cliques, with Dauntless being the "cool" ones, made up of all of the dangerous bad boys you could ever want and all of the hot women who float through their privileged lives based on their appearances.

So guess which faction Tris ends up being drawn to?

Yes, choosing which faction to live in is still a personal choice, even though an Inception-like test is administered to give a "suggestion" as to where you should go...a very advanced personality test. The new founders - following an unseen cataclysmic world war - feel like separating people into groups of other like minded people is a way to keep the peace moving forward. But there are a select few that do not fit into any group, and these folks are called Divergents.

Got all of that?

Tris and her brother are born to an Abnegation family, but on Choosing Day, Tris becomes Dauntless and her brother chooses Erudite, even though Tris's personality test showed that she didn't neatly fit into any of the groups (the test was oddly administered by a member of Dauntless...wouldn't you think that a Candor, known for their honest nature, would be the ones chosen to administer such tests? Just sayin'.). At Dauntless she meets the handsome, brooding gentleman known as Four (Theo James) who (yawn) starts off as a prick but will soon fall for Tris.

There is evil lurking though around the corner. One of the Erudite leaders, Jeanine (Kate Winslet) is plotting a bad plan, because if she wasn't then a movie like this wouldn't be able to exist.

There are clear, identifiable themes of fitting in, not fitting in, and being understood, that should feel familiar to the film's target audience of adolescent girls. Much like with Twilight, the on-screen romance is mostly puppy love, made to make teenagers squirm in their chairs, howl at the screen and buy theater tickets in small packs. Unlike Twilight, there is nothing interesting between either of the thinly plotted main characters. Four is no Edward, and Tris fails to be as interesting as Bella, or especially Katniss Everdeen, for that matter.

But the implausibility of the entire premise of Divergent is mind-boggling and frustrating. Nothing makes sense and there is absolutely nothing at stake. At least in The Hunger Games, there seemed to be some level of gravitas.

It's like listening to a song for the beat and not for the words. Nothing wrong with that, but a song with deep meaning can penetrate your defenses, whereas a catchy tune grows old and is soon forgotten and discarded. Divergent is an empty techno groove that keeps your attention, but won't move you. It can't possibly. There's no real depth - no meaning - other than attempting to duplicate and carry on a beat recently created in other, better films.

This one left me longing to turn the station.

Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi

Run Time: 2 hour, 19 minutes, Rated PG-13

Starring : Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Ashley Judd, Jai Courtney, Ray Stevenson, Zoe Kravitz, Miles Teller, Kate Winslet, Maggie Q, Mekhi Phifer

Based on the novel by Veronica Roth

Written by Vanessa Taylor (Hope Springs) & Evan Daugherty (Killing Season, Snow White and the Huntsman)

Directed by Neil Burger (The Illusionist, The Lucky Ones, Limitless)

Opens locally on Friday, March 21, 2014 (check for show times).

Be sure to watch Tom Santilli on TV! Check your local listings for “Movie Show Plus” for Tom’s weekly movie review segment, airing at 10:30 p.m. EST every Sunday, on MYTV20 in Detroit.

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How to read Tom Santilli's "Star Ratings:"

  • 5 Stars: Exceptional, must-see movie
  • 4 Stars: Very good movie, not without flaws
  • 3 Stars: The movie was just OK, leaves a lot to be desired
  • 2 Stars: Pretty bad, a let-down, disappointing, but with some redeeming qualities
  • 1 Star: Awful, sloppy, a total waste of time
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