Consider the numeral zero. It’s not exactly a number, which measures a finite amount, but a concept that means nothingness.
For the past decade, the movie reviews in these pages have used a scale of one to four stars. A one-star rating is supposed to represent the lowest of the low. But after suffering and then sleeping through “The Divergent Series: Insurgent,” your humble correspondent had an awakening: There is such a thing as an infinitely bad movie, and this is it.
Many movies are inept, yet some of them are entertaining. From “Plan 9 From Outer Space” to “Showgirls,” badly scripted, poorly acted and sloppily directed movies can be forgiven if they have compensatory virtues, like Bela Lugosi or bare boobs.
Or a story. Almost every mainstream Hollywood release has the pretense of a plot. Granted, a lot of them are clichéd, but when we’re eating popcorn in the dark, many sins can be forgiven if the people on the screen seem committed to what they’re doing.
There’s no forgiving “Insurgent,” a ransom note written in gibberish and delivered to a captive audience of pre-teen girls. Many of them have already read the book series by Veronica Roth, so in the spirit of Amity, they might give this misbegotten middle child the benefit of the doubt. But your humble correspondent belongs to a faction called Candor, and from his middle-age male perspective, this is the most crassly contrived movie he has ever seen.
In episode one, which was a shameless imitation of “The Hunger Games” without all that annoying social-commentary stuff, a mousy girl named Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) discovered that she wasn’t just another rat in the maze of post-apocalyptic Chicago but a “divergent” with special powers. So she broke from her genetically prescribed role and joined with a brigade of freedom-fighting daredevils.
God help you if you don’t know the backstory entering this second installment. Even when uttered by an authority figure played by Kate Winslet, all the malarkey about personality-based factions boils down to a stink-face feud between specialists (Abnegation, Erudite, Dauntless) and multi-taskers (Divergents). Why should anyone who doesn’t belong to the faction Consumer care about a struggle between various tribes of tattooed teens?
Should we be terrified when Tris is captured and forced to endure computer-simulated hardships from the “Martix”/“Inception” playbook? Why shouldn’t we laugh when she does the Marx Bros. mirror routine with her own dark side before realizing, like Whitney Houston, that the greatest love of all is narcissism? And must we really endure a third move to learn that she’s the Chosen One?
Woodley, who was so lively in “The Descendents,” eschews emotion as if she were the cancer patient in “The Fault in Our Stars.” Her co-conspirator in that bathetic movie, Ansel Elgort, plays her brother here (ick), and some cardboard hunk named Theo James plays the token love interest. Were it not for the five lines of recognizably human dialogue spoken by Miles Teller, this whole thing would implode into a black hole.
Which is the only thing less than zero.
What “The Divergent Series: Insurgent” • No stars out of four • Rating PG-13 • Run time 1:59 • Content Intense violence and action throughout, some sensuality, thematic elements and brief language