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Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort and Miles Teller are the best thing about ‘Insurgent’

Don’t you forget about Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort and Miles <br/> Teller. Don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t … (Lionsgate/Express illustration)

In the wild subdivisions of Northern Virginia, during the dark, dark days before Netflix, sixth-grade girls at a slumber party had their movies limited to whatever tape Erol’s had in stock and how permissive the party girl’s mom was, usually measured by whether she would let you watch “Dirty Dancing.” When she wouldn’t (like MY mom, who was SO MEAN), the evening’s entertainment was usually “The Breakfast Club,” a story about teenagers who change the world. The library-based part of it, anyway.

The new movie “Insurgent” has more in common with “The Breakfast Club” than you’d think. They both take place in or near Chicago, and they put teenagers at the center of the story, with a task ahead of them that they’re not quite ready for. That’s no longer particularly innovative; in our post-“Hunger Games” world it’s not even news to have a special teenager whose unique talents enable her to take down an unfair system, which is the real dream of teenagers everywhere.

The thing that sets “Insurgent” apart from so many films about teenagers — those surviving high school, those surviving dystopian societies, those who recognize that sometimes those are the same thing — is that its actors are just so good.

Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort and Miles Teller — who play, respectively, heroine Tris, her brother Caleb, and her antagonist Peter — are among the best young actors working today (Teller, at 28, is the old man of the group).

Their career paths have crossed repeatedly, Brat Pack-style, in a millennial version of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. Woodley and Teller played opposite each other in “The Spectacular Now”; Woodley and Elgort got their turn together in “The Fault in Our Stars”; all three were in “Divergent.” And with “Insurgent,” “Divergent’s” sequel, they are, again, the best things in a very shaky movie.

The few scenes in which the trio appear are far and away the film’s best; they share a snappy chemistry that feels more authentic and intimate than Woodley’s scenes with Theo James, who plays her boyfriend, Four. Teller’s smarmily charming act that I found tremendously off-putting in “The Spectacular Now” works here, particularly because it’s diluted with some cutting humor. Woodley is better than the script, which mostly calls on her to brood. And Elgort is at his best when he’s not the focus of the scene; his reaction shots, even when he’s in the background, show the work of a serious, studious actor.

Woodley, Teller and Elgort have all shown their stuff individually and in pairs in other, better movies, but the three together bring a bit of color to a decidedly drab film. They’ll have to do it twice more to wrap up this series, but I want to see them work in a movie worthy of their talents.

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