‘Divergent:’ Routine, predictable, ironic

March 30, 2014
Ashley Judd and Tony Goldwyn in "Divergent."

It was recently revealed that an article on the earthquake last week published in the Los Angeles Times was created completely by computer algorithms. So it is only fitting that the week also saw what I can only fathom is the first screenplay written entirely by computer: “Divergent.”

Plugging in data compiled from countless other films that tested positively, it must have been synthesized on some mainframe which tabulated tween pulse rates, swoon factors, girl power, responses to pop music, and countless other tiny variables, then run through the Pseudo-Empowerment encoding system (which I think is a registered Microsoft product) to produce this wholly synthetic slice of cinema.

Set in the not-too-distant dystopian future - or maybe the unused sets of “The Hunger Games” - “Divergent” is the latest film to fill the “Twilight”-sized gap in young-adult cinema. Taking as its source a best-selling series from Veronica Roth, “Divergent” introduces us to Tris (played by the too-talented-for-this Shailene Woodley), a young gal who’s just trying to find her way in this crazy, mixed-up world.

Each year, those turning 16 participate in Choosing Day, which is like Groundhog Day, but a lot less fun: instead of six more more weeks of winter, you are told where you are going to spend the rest of your life based on some folklore-ish ritual devised after a huge war.

To avoid any future fighting, the city’s rules divide its citizens into five distinctly different classes based on their personalities: the Abnegation (selfless do-gooders who also run the government); the Dauntless (building-scaling acrobats, who act like extras from the “Beat It” music video…oh, and they are also law enforcement); the Erudites (brainiacs who like to play with beakers and test tubes); Amitys (dirty, hippie farmers) and Candors (truth-telling lawyers).

Prior to choosing, entrants are tested and told their best-suited group, but sometimes an individual pops up who tests positive for more than one destiny, and they are marked as “divergents.” Tris is one such person.

She signs with the Dauntless, maybe because she lost the part in “West Side Story” and is looking to get her street dance on. She goes through a series of physical beatings and verbal pummelings by jerky trainer Eric (played by Jai Courtney) and even jerkier fellow recruit Peter (played by Miles Teller), who make sure she is belittled in some way at every turn.

Fortunately she’s found an ally in Four (played by Theo James). Even more fortunately, he looks to have burst from the pages of an Abercrombie & Fitch catalogue. Together, they face the duplicitous evil mastermind (played by Kate Winslet) who intends to mold the city to her own will. Winslet joins a cast of slumming stars (Ashley Judd, Tony Goldwyn, Maggie Q) who elevate the film much higher than the writers and director ever aspire.

I suppose some celebration is in order as the story has a strong, independent female lead, something sadly void in too many action films. But one wishes that there was something more interesting for her (or anyone) to do. Every move, alliance, deception, and “harrowing” situation seems grafted from another film, which leaves it with little identity to call its own. We know she’ll face her fears, lose loved ones, and be betrayed by some people she thought she could trust.

We also know there’ll be more. For “Divergent” is from one of a trilogy of young-adult books, and after premiering in the top spot last week, the ink on the sequels’ greenlighting is pretty fresh.

It’s encouraging that Woodley is the lead and will return, as she continues to prove her strength as an actress, and with actresses like Judd, Maggie Q and Winslett dropping by for the first one, there’s hope that there will be future roles for other talented actresses.

But let’s hope the future filmmakers can provide them all with better material than anything found in routine, predictable, ironically named “Divergent.”