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Josh Hutcherson Elizabeth Banks Jennifer Lawrence

Josh Hutcherson, left, Elizabeth Banks, center, and Jennifer Lawrence reprise their roles from the "The Hunger Games" in the sequel "Catching Fire," a film expected to be one of the year's biggest box-office hits.

Full of action, drama and romance, "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" is every bit as entertaining as its predecessor. A "link" movie, to be sure, but strong in writing, direction and performance, "Catching Fire" is certain to continue to do just that at the box office.

Calling these movies "young adult" films may be deceptive because older people and, certainly, teenagers will enjoy them, too.

In the leading role, Jennifer Lawrence returns as Katniss Everdeen, who, in a futuristic world that pits fighters from different districts against each other in a battle to the death, came out the victor along with her alleged boyfriend Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). Although Peeta and Katniss certainly care for each other, their romance serves as a publicity stunt. It’s Katniss' friend Gayle (Liam Hemsworth) who truly has her heart.

Katniss and Peeta are dispatched on their victory tour. They and those involved in the Hunger Games continue to live lavishly while the oppression and a building rebellion continue in the districts where people barely eke out an existence. President Snow (Donald Sutherland) feels his power slipping away and encourages his militia to become more brutal in the punishments they dole out within the districts.

In a new game, Snow works with a game-runner named Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) to stack the odds against the favorites.

Director Francis Lawrence, who helmed the too-little seen "Water for Elephants," keeps a nice balance between character-driven situations and pulse-pounding action. The threats to the main characters' lives seem to loom even more frequently than they did the first time around.

It's no surprise that the screenplay is taut and exciting. Simon Beaufoy, an Academy Award winner for his "Slumdog Millionaire" screenplay, along with co-writer Michael deBruyn (actually Michael Arndt, who also won an Oscar for "Little Miss Sunshine") wrote the script.

Lawrence is as strong as ever as she learns to cope with the emotional and mental damage she incurred in the games. We don't need dialogue, particularly at the very last few seconds of this film, to know exactly what Katniss is thinking. Hutcherson shows a new maturity as he grows into the role of one of the young men who does indeed love Katniss but who also remains a savvy survivor and understands the politics involved. And it’s wonderful to see Amanda Plummer ("The Fisher King" and "Pulp Fiction") in a small but pivotal role here.

Whether you seek action, drama, science-fiction or romance, the odds that you’ll find it are in your favor there.

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Film critic/reporter since 1985 at Quad-City Times. Society of Professional Journalists, Broadcast Film Critics Association and Alliance of Women Film Journalists member. Member of St. Mark Lutheran Church.