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The Starving Games  (2013)
Zero Stars
Directed by Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer.
Cast: Maiara Walsh, Brant Daugherty, Cody Allen Christian, Lauren Bowles, Diedrich Bader, Ross Wyngaarden, Dean West, Michael Hartson, Theo Crane, Chris Marroy, Eryn Davis, Kennedy Hermansen, Juhahn Jones, Ian Casselberry, Taylor Murphy, Nick Gomez.
2013 – 83 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for crude and sexual content, comic violence, language and partial nudity).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, November 6, 2013.
Just when it seemed as if Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer (2010's "Vampires Suck") had insulted the Hollywood film industry enough and been banished for good from writing and directing their own movies, they show back up like a kind of cinematic Bubonic plague, infecting viewers with gangrene of the eyes, ears and brain. You want to numb your mind with zero entertainment value to offset the throwaway trashiness? These tone-deaf doofuses have got this particular lowly feat on lock. What they cannot do is devise a single amusing joke or pay it off with anything approaching proper cohesive timing. That their genre of choice is spoof comedy is embarrassing for them, and tragic for anyone with the misfortune of having to sit through their agonizing celebrations in moronic inanity. A parody of 2012's "The Hunger Games" without a solitary laugh to be mustered, "The Starving Games" is 83 minutes of rancorous stereotyping, lame bathroom gags and aimless, often bafflingly outdated film references. Yes, at one point someone whoops and hollers, "I'm the king of the world!" Yes, that line was already played out fifteen years ago.

In a dystopic vision of the future where the country is divided into districts and two children from each one are annually chosen by lottery to compete in a televised fight to the death called "The Starving Games," teenager Kantmiss Evershot (Maiara Walsh) bravely chooses to take the place of her little sister, Petunia (Kennedy Hermansen), when the girl's name is called. Joining her from District 12 is baker's son Peter Malarkey (Cody Allen Christian), who uses the competition as a foolish ploy to get closer to Kantmiss. With cameras pointed in their direction and everyone, including Kantmiss' best friend back home, Dale (Brant Daugherty), watching, the fatal games commence. The prize for the ultimate sole survivor? A partially eaten pickle and a gift card to Subway.

What is there to say about Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer that hasn't already been written in my tirade-filled reviews of "Epic Movie," "Disaster Movie" and "Meet the Spartans?" Their filmmaking style—if one can call it that—is lumbering, asinine and classless as they parade out a caricaturized stream of popular movie characters (from "Avatar," "The Avengers," "Oz the Great and Powerful," etc.) and celebrities (e.g., Taylor Swift, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, "Gangnam Style" musician Psy) performed by lookalike actors and then point their fingers at them while monotonously goading, "Isn't this funny? Isn't this funny?" There is no satire involved. There is neither a tweaking of expectations nor a point in their showing up. Friedberg and Seltzer have no angle, other than to emulate the maturity level of a drooling, snot-nosed, 14-year-old dweeb whose heroes are Beavis and Butthead. When this fails them, they turn into 16-year-old sociopaths who think execution-style killings and body decomposition are the height of hilarity.

There is a twinkle of talent glimpsed now and again by Maiara Walsh (TV's "Switched at Birth") in the Jennifer Lawrence role as Kantmiss Evershot, but gamely making the best out of a catastrophe doesn't exactly get her far. Forced into licking pus from Peter Malarkey's back wounds, taking a fall with a beehive on her head, and running around a stage when the dress she is wearing erupts into flames, Walsh's potential is no match for a suffocatingly insulting script that Uwe Boll and Ed Wood would have wasted no time in scrapping. As Peter, Cody Allen Christian (2009's "Surrogates") is asked to scream like an exaggerated 1970s depiction of effeminate homosexuality every time he gets scared or is threatened. The rest of the performers needn't be mentioned by name; no matter how hard they might be trying, this film ensures they are made to look like imbeciles.

"The Starving Games" is depressing to watch and all the more dismaying to imagine the behind-the-scenes process of making it. Surely no one involved old enough to put words together would expect the finished product to be anything other than awful. If the Zuckers and Abrahams and Brookses of the "Airplane!"/"The Naked Gun!"/"Young Frankenstein" era shot slapstick to commercial and critical acclaim, it is talent-deficient hacks like Friedberg and Seltzer who continue to do their part in giving these once-raucous comedies a bad name. "Dumb" humor does not actually have to be dumb—it can, in fact, be clever, smart and even insightful—and this is where they continually miss the mark by a gaping longshot. "It's even better in 3D!" a District 12 viewer exclaims as he and the rest of the townspeople throw on their bulky glasses to watch Kantmiss and Peter get freaky in a cave. A pro-3D message is suspect by itself—particularly in a motion picture that is in 2D—but "The Starving Games" is one case where having to watch a movie through virtual sunglasses, preferably with a weak-bulbed projector, could be a good thing. The dimmer, the better. What is "The Starving Games," anyway, if not a blackened abyss into nothingness?
© 2013 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman