Mandy Moore, left, and Amandla Stenberg star in "The Darkest...

Mandy Moore, left, and Amandla Stenberg star in "The Darkest Minds." Credit: Twentieth Century Fox/Daniel McFadden

PLOT Imprisoned teens in a dystopian society decide it's time to rebel.

CAST Amandla Stenberg, Harris Dickinson, Mandy Moore, Skylan Brooks

RATED PG-13 (violence including disturbing images, and thematic elements)


BOTTOM LINE Appealing actors, but the story lacks cohesion.

"The Darkest Minds," based on the novel by Amanda Bracken, feels like a late entry in the dystopian young adult sci-fi genre. Although the film, directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson making her live-action debut, is choppy and never ascends to the levels summited by "Harry Potter" of "The Hunger Games," it does have a few juicy political metaphors to chew on.
Amandla Stenberg stars as Ruby, a young girl ripped away from her family as the country is gripped in a crisis after adolescents are wiped out by a lethal disease. Ruby and the other survivors, all of whom possess supernatural powers (in her case, telepathic abilities), are transported to brutal labor camps and color-coded by their abilities.
Kids considered "different" and "dangerous" are separated from their families and held in dreary detention camps. There’s a refreshing bold streak of anarchy throughout. Our heroes are ostracized and oppressed teens taking matters into their own hands, fighting their way out of captivity, finding fellowship in each other and working toward creating a utopian world of communal living.
Unfortunately, "The Darkest Minds" feels hacked to bits. Bradley Whitford appears as President Gray, who claims his son has been cured of the evil illness, but his appearance is strangely brief and you have to wonder what ended up on the cutting room floor. Similarly, Mandy Moore has about 10 minutes of screen time as a member of the League, a group trying to save the kids from the camps. Ruby doesn’t trust the League, and we spend much of the movie wondering why the League is untrustworthy.
The young cast far exceeds the thin concept and often silly writing. Skylan Brooks steals the show with much-needed comic relief as the nerdy Chubs. Sternberg is a lovely, naturalistic performer and has good romantic chemistry with Harris Dickinson as the telekinetic Liam.
"The Darkest Minds" never commits to one specific message. It shies away from actually saying anything interesting and stumbles in the execution, privileging a young love story over everything else. Despite its radical potential, it’s disappointing to see this story fall back on what’s considered typical teen stuff.

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