Shailene Woodley, Theo James
Director: Neil Burger
Shailene Woodley in 'Divergent'
Jaap Buitendijk/Summit Entertainment
By Peter Travers
Apr 06, 2014

At the risk of alienating young-adult hearts, the faithful but dramatically flat film version of Divergent, from Veronica Roth’s 2011 bestseller, couldn’t stir palpitations in shut-ins. It’s that bland and lifeless. Odd for a story about rebellious youth in a dystopian future Chicago. Roth, just 22 when Divergent was published, rushed out two follow-up novels, Insurgent and Allegiant. A baldfaced attempt to cash in on the success of Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games trilogy? You be the judge. The plots – two lovers fight to stay alive in a cruel, controlling society –  are virtually identical. At least The Hunger Games spawned two terrific movies and a breakthrough star in Jennifer Lawrence. Onscreen, Divergent ignites only indifference.

I’m surprised. Shailene Woodley, a spirited actress in The Descendants and The Spectacular Now, seems an ideal choice to play Beatrice Prior, the 16-year-old heroine who must choose her place in a stacked-deck society. Theo James, the Brit actor who played the Turk who died scandalously in Lady Mary’s bed on Downton Abbey, is a tall drink of glowering sexuality as Four, her partner in dangerous personality traits. They needed to generate a sizzling chemistry onscreen. It’s not there. Nada.

I had hopes for director Neil Burger; he made magic with The Illusionist. But he can’t perk up a stultifying script by Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor that hews to the surface of the book while jettisoning its daring. The teens in Chicago must choose a faction to define them – Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless and Erudite. Beware divergents like Four and Tris (see how she jazzed up her name). But except for Kate Winslet’s fearsome turn as a villain, the only terror Divergent roused in me was that the drag-ass thing would never end. Sorry, I’m a Candor.

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