(In theaters, May 2012) Massively hyped as The Next Big Thing in teen pop-culture, The Hunger Games generally lives up to its billing as a decent piece of filmmaking. It’s hardly perfect, but it keeps getting better as it goes on: Viewers will have to make it past the drab cinematography of the first section of the film and a premise that doesn’t sustain a moment’s scrutiny to start enjoying the film. Jennifer Lawrence is remarkable in the lead role (the first few minutes suggest the same self-sufficient Appalachian character she played in Winter’s Bone) but director Gary Ross’s work is a bit shaky at first. The Hunger Games only gets going on the way to Capitol, and then in the wilderness where the teenage protagonists start killing each other off. The script has its moments (as well as its anti-moments, such as blatant game manipulation that would send Games audiences in a righteous rage) but don’t expect much more than competence in this middle-of-the-road adaptation. Lead character Katniss comes across as more admirable than most film heroines, tapping into that same hunger for positive female role models that helped the book become such a success. Compared to the book, however, The Hunger Games comes across as a bit less disturbing (no mentions of the enslaved Avox, no hints as to the Wolf Mutts’ origins, fewer injuries to the participants, mere slight ambiguity as to Katniss’ true feelings for Peeta) and seems to err in trying to replace Katniss’ clipped narration with exposition-heavy scenes featuring third parties. Still, the result isn’t too bad once you can make it past the dreary first section and the dubious premise. Woody Harrelson turns in another winning performance as an over-the-hill champion, and the film finds a certain rhythm once the game gets underway. The film lags a bit toward the end (and makes sure that Katniss doesn’t really kill anyone in cold blood) but who really care? Preordained to be a mass pop-culture phenomenon from day one, The Hunger Games has the good luck of being actually watchable even by people who don’t buy into the central premise.