Now your old pal Carl Eusebius has never seen and will never see The Hunger Games. I liked it the first time I saw it, when it was called Battle Royale. It's also young adult fiction, a genre I've had no interest in since I started reading real fiction. I imagine that I'd react to The Hunger Games source novel in the same way I reacted to the first Harry Potter novel when I read it: "This is well-written, reasonably cliche-free, and totally uninteresting to me."
I don't know how good the source novel for Last Week, When the War Will Start is because I'd never read anything with such an embarrassing title, but if the movie is any indication, it makes Games and Potter look like fucking masterpieces. Released two years after the first Twilight movie, the film does its best to ape Stevenie Meyer. (Stop for a moment and contemplate the sheer horror of that statement.) It's got the completely out of place teen angst, the stammering virgin heroine, the perfect pairing off of couples so that nobody has to be single, the abstinence porn, the illusion of danger while nobody really gets hurt, the hundred-year-old vampire stalker...okay, I may have added that last one.
Stop me if you've heard this one: A nefarious Asian country invades a land of white freedom without warning, achieves complete surprise and occupies large parts of the country, rounds up people and puts them in a giant camp in the middle of town (even though such a logistical nightmare would make it harder to govern the captured territory), and only a small, rag-tag band of teenagers remains to form a resistance movement. Sprinkle this plot stolen from Red Dawn with Twilight teen-angst romance, and you have Three Months From Now, When I May or May Not Have Made Toast.
Now I bang on to anybody who will listen about how Hotlips Neverland is a fucking terrible name for a protagonist that would alone put me off ever reading or watching The Hunger Games, but I'll give it this: It's unique and memorable. I wish to God I could forget it, but at least it's distinctive.
This film opens on the slightly-less-memorably-named Ellie Linton (Caitlin Stasey), the leader of our band of resistance fighters, speaking into the camera about how she hopes "all we've lost" will be worth it. Clearly the resistance has succeeded in keeping open its supply lines to Max Factor, since Ellie's hair and make-up are perfect. She looks like someone who at worst may have spent 24 hours in the bush. The film then flashes back to a group of six indistinguishable Australian 20-somethings trying to act like they're in high school as they prepare for a camping trip that will conveniently have them away from their homes when the unnamed but highly Asian invading army strikes. These first twenty minutes of the film had me alternately praying for death and shouting at the screen for somebody to invade something already. The "hip youth" banter combined with stilted performances of the actors playing the teens made these scenes intolerable to sit through, though I did have a laugh when the hottest of the girls (the one played by a fucking model), one Fiona, confesses that no boy has asked her out in the last year. Now I know you can't cast an actual normal girl in the role of "mousy wallflower that the boys don't like", but actress Phoebe Tonkin isn't even movie-
Still, it was hilarious to watch the comparatively much more normal-looking Ellie reassure Fiona that there's some special guy out there who will lower himself to ask out a girl who puts Scarlett Johansson to shame. The movie even acknowledges this later when it objectifies her Michael Bay-style as she strips down to a bikini and the camera ogles her body that could melt a cheese sandwich from across the room. This angelic sight distracts her love interest Smoke Manmuscle (complete with Power Mullet) from the rugby game he's playing, allowing him to be tackled as he stands flat-footed gawking at her. So is she a sex bomb or a sheltered introvert? Oh, that's right, she's a nonexistent male fantasy woman, ranking just below the Manic Pixie Dream Girl and slightly higher than the Lipstick Lesbian Who Only Needs a Real Man to Turn Her Straight. Yep, Fiona is the Sweet Girl Who's Innocently Unaware of Her Beauty. Oh, I do hope we get the scene in which Smoke tells her she's pretty!
Once the war began, the stupid--and therefore the movie--picks up quite a bit, except for whenever we go back to the teen angst. The teens return from camping to find their respective homes abandoned, with no indication of where or why the families have gone. (This could've been interesting or suspenseful if Ellie hadn't seen the invasion force's planes flying overhead the previous night.) Ellie, galpal Corrie (Rachel Hurd-Wood), and Corrie's boyfriend Kevin (Lincoln Lewis) find the prisoner camp (which, again, houses the entire town), witness some pointless brutality on the part of the soldiers so we know they're evil (in case their being Asian wasn't clue enough), and escape under sustained machine gun fire from the soldiers. These jokers must have graduated from the Stormtrooper Academy, since they fire literally thousands of rounds at the teens over the course of the movie and never hit anyone except the one time during the climax when the script says they can finally tag one of 'em.
Ellie and Corrie fall behind Kevin and so get separated from him. The dialogue in this scene and in later scenes indicates that we're supposed to regard Kevin's running away as cowardice, but really, what's he going to do? They're running, he's running. What difference does it make if he's running beside them instead of ahead of them? In fact, separating is probably the smarter call. That Corrie keeps beating up on him days later fer bein' yella is moronic.
Ellie and Corrie then teleport by means of poor editing to the yard of a nearby house. A good dozen soldiers, accompanied by an APC, arrive and proceed to search for them. Corrie somehow doesn't see a giant fucking riding lawnmower in her path and runs directly into it with such force that she renders herself unable to walk(?). Ellie drags her behind the hedgerows where they sit and wait for the searching soldiers to find them. (Kevin's running away from you two twits is looking pretty damn smart right now.) I won't even get into how Ellie manages to blow up the lawnmower right when the two soldiers searching the yard are standing next to it. What I want to know is why none of the other soldiers reacts. You'd think they might want to check out the gigantic explosion or the fire currently burning in the area they're searching. Nope, in the next scene Ellie and Corrie have teleported to the group's safehouse...wherever it is in relation to...wherever they just were. Stupid movie.
The gang is supposed to meet up with Ellie's Secret Crush, Lee (Chris Pang), and the kid this group of horny teens inexplicably hangs around with, Robyn (Ashleigh Cummings). Robyn, in an addition to being like 11, is also a committed Christian and pacifist who refuses to take up arms against the Yellow Peril. I sure hope she isn't put in a situation in which she has to choose between her pacifism and blowing away the scum to save her friends! The gang eventually finds Lee being treated for a leg wound by The Dentist (Colin Friels), one of the few townspeople to remain free. Friels was like a cup of soup to a starving man, effortlessly performing his expository dialogue as if he were an actual, like, actor. Then he disappears from the movie, the Dentist having rather wisely refused to join the gang. Since Lee can't walk, the gang decides they need a vehicle. Instead of trying to come up with a way to escape surreptitiously like everybody else, Ellie decides to get a set of wheels so big and tough that the soldiers won't be able to stop them. Amazingly, everybody agrees to this titanically stupid plan, so they offscreen teleport into a garbage truck. Where did they get that? Why is it drivable, with keys and all? How does Ellie know how to drive it? Why do they need it, when they could just use another bad edit to teleport back to their safehouse? These questions and many, many, many others will remain unanswered by Fourscore and Seven Years Ago, When the Conflagration Did Suddenly and Violently Arise.
The truck is chased by soldiers in dune buggies, just so we know we're in Australia. I don't want to keep you in suspense, but they escape to their hideout completely unharmed. That's right, they drive right up to their hideout. In a garbage truck. Without even turning off its flashing yellow lights. Oh yeah, these kids are so going to make it as hit-and-run resistance fighters.
Lee and Ellie reveal their feelings for each other so that Ellie can angst about how she doesn't want to love when there's a war on. This storyline didn't bother me as much as the other two couple plotlines (Corrie and Kevin, Fiona and Smoke) because the guy playing Lee is probably the best actor of the bunch and it isn't often that Western films portray Asian men in a positive romantic or sexual light. In fact, I can't think of a single Western mainstream film that has the main female white character end up with an Asian romantic partner. Fortunately, we find out that the unnamed Asian army is conquering Australia because it won't share its economic resources with Asia's poor teeming masses. Whew! For a second I was afraid Australia wasn't as racist as I'd heard.
Blah blah, they blow up a bridge, Corrie gets shot by the script, Kevin does some heroic things to make up for his earlier cowardice that didn't seem much like cowardice to me, Robyn is put in a situation in which she has to choose between her pacifism and blowing away the scum to save her friends, Kevin decides to take the dying Corrie to the hospital even though it means his and her certain capture, and the movie ends with the remaining "commandos" posing for a picture that nobody took and declaring they'll fight to the end and that their secret base hasn't been found yet(!). So the invaders didn't search the house with the garbage truck they were earlier pursuing parked outside it? didn't interrogate any townspeople to discover who might be out there and where they might be hiding? captured one of the teens but couldn't get a name or a location out of him? Worst. Invaders. Ever.
So "all we've lost" turns out to be, at most, 1 presumed dead and 1 probably captured, with the other six totally fine. (The group picked up a pothead along the way for some stoner "humor". Trust me, you don't want to hear about it.) You know, you won't hear me say much good about Red Dawn, but at least it ended the only way it could end, with the deaths of all resistance fighters. A bunch of untrained, unsupported teenagers resisting an organized, well-equipped force that's happy to murder innocent people will not come to any other end. How sad, that after giving us a film that we've been ripping off routinely for 30 goddamn years, Australia's now stealing from us. They gave us Mel Gibson and Vernon Wells in assless chaps, and we gave them Patrick Swayze and His Mullet.
As bad as The Book of Eli was, I'd say score one for America on that trade. USA! USA! USA!
* Think Jamie Lynn Spears or Frank Stallone, but an entire country.