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Review: Shailene Woodley is the only one trying in 'Insurgent'

This latest YA saga isn't one of the good ones.

Of Shailene Woodley's movie boyfriends, "Insurgent"'s Theo James is the boring oneAndrew Cooper

‘The Insurgent Series: Insurgent’
Robert Schwentke
Stars: Shailene Woodley, Theo James
Rating: PG-13
2 (out of 5) Globes

As in its predecessor, the second “Divergent” film has only thing to glowingly recommend: Shailene Woodley. As the series’ resident reluctant Messiah, Tris, the actress isn’t merely a tough-but-vulnerable Katniss-Jennifer Lawrence type; her emotions are right there in her uncommonly expressive eyes and the way her voice naturally cracks when she speaks. Not far into “Insurgent,” Tris is forced into a crying jag, which Woodley does so freely and sincerely — complete with messy shrieks — that for a moment this sleek, cynical, impersonal copycat entertainment seems uncomfortably human.

In fact, the stress seems all too real: the entire movie rests on Woodley’s shoulders, unduly demanding she supply all of its heart and feeling. No one else will. This is a film that asks its many talented cast members to coast or do even less: Kate Winslet as a clipboard-wielding baddie who carries out her villainy with the zeal of an HR manager heading the sexual harassment seminar; Naomi Watts as the shaggy leader of a rebel commune; Octavia Spencer as the beatific leader of another, more hippie-prone commune. There are a lot of secret communes in this dystopia (actually, Chicago), which provide safe, convenient havens for our now on-the-lam heroes — including Tris’ seemingly animatronic rent-a-hunk boo (Theo James) — who somehow aren’t immediately busted by the know-everything evil government.

In fact, as the “Divergent” saga expands its world-building in its middle section (before a predictably split-up finale), it doesn’t make more sense; it just keeps adding more things that aren’t well-explained and seem tiresomely derivative anyway. The big hook here is that there’s this box — a box that looks like the one in the Hellraiser series, and one that when unlocked will provide much needed intel that won’t really come in handy until the third or fourth movie. Only Tris, of course, can bust it open, which essentially entails her playing a video game, complete with five levels — five deeply uncreative levels that basically force viewers to watch a digitized Woodley scamper about a flying house on fire and later fight herself (not as cool as it may sound).


Despite a director change-up (from “Limitless”’ Neil Burger to “Flightplan”’s Robert Schwentke), this is even more leaden than “Divergent,” and far more prone to get tripped up on its clumsily complicated plot, which involves multiple communes, a couple turncoats, at least three instances where a revved-up set piece turns out to be a sweaty nightmare and more than should be required walk-ons from the dead Ashley Judd. The expository dialogue (something about “a trial held by Erudite”) can still sound like Yes song titles, and Woodley is again amusingly surrounded by ex-movie boyfriends (Miles Teller, doing his best ’80s James Spader, and Ansel Elgort, the latter as — ew — her bro). Also again, the enterprise seems hand-me-down, arrogant and lazy, insincerely offering character challenges (e.g., Tris’ grief and guilt over the last film’s happenings) just to keep things busy till this episode’s over. It scooped up the right star and it knows it; the film treats Woodley like a get-out-of-jail-free card for all its transgressions and fits of crappiness. After all, you oughtn’t to miss a Shailene Woodley performance, even one where even the dynamic Kate Winslet looks bored.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge
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