It begins with a 90-minute fashion show masquerading as a sci-fi epic, and ends abruptly.
Because The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is the most female-friendly/runway ready sci-fi franchise ever, and the latest film in the four-film series is meant to be a cliffhanger.
But once things FINALLY get underway, this humorless chatterbox of intrigues, rebellion and a Twilighty love triangle packs in some real pathos.
And while it may leave fans begging for more, the rest of the universe can be excused for rolling its collective eyes and snapping, Oh, for Peetas sake, get ON with it.
The victors in the 74th Hunger Games are touring the land, sharing their love story for the ages at the behest of the Capital, and the president, played by Donald Sutherland.
President Snow knows all, including the fact that Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) dont click as a couple.
Katniss also knows too much and senses the unrest in the land, which worries the daylights out of Snow. Perhaps shell use her manufactured celebrity to inspire a revolt.
And they cannot leave her and Peeta to their dull District 12 mining lives, where Katniss can share her REAL feelings with hunky miner Gale (Liam Hemsworth).
So the next Hunger Games, the 75th, the Quarter Quell event, will round up lots of recent winners/survivors of the Games to go at it, to the death, to get these symbolic young lovers/ would-be revolutionaries out of the way.
Aiding President Snows designs are Plutarch, the game builder (Philip Seymour Hoffman). He envisions turning the public against Katniss.
They spent more on production design for this wintry, woodsy sequel to The Hunger Games. Lawrence has since won an Oscar and grown into a formidable young woman, and Hutchersons voice has deepened and he has real screen presence.
Lionsgate hired an Oscar-winning screenwriter (Simon Slumdog Millionaire Beaufoy) and I Am Legend director Francis Lawrence to handle both this film and the upcoming pair of Mockingjay movies.
Which doesnt exactly pay dividends, because Francis Lawrence is nobodys idea of an A-list sci-fi director.
Woody Harrelsons Haymitch, the veteran of the Games who conspires to keep our two Mockingjay lovebirds alive, evolves into a nobler if still boozy mentor. Elizabeth Banks has even more outlandish costumes and makeup as Effie, the couples PR consultant, but nothing funny to say.
Only Stanley Tucci, all teeth and purple hair in a ponytail, wrings laughs from this grim slog through the middle acts of novelist Suzanne Collins YA opus.
Not that its supposed to be that amusing, but something is needed to break up the glumness.
Catching Fire has promising themes where young people trapped in a cutthroat competition question authority and try to reason their way out of a kill-or-be-killed fate.
But the sad realization sinks in, just as the fashion show is ending and the action movie is beginning, that this is as good as Lionsgate cares to make these pictures. The die is cast for the rest of the series.