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Beastly defies some serious odds in moviemaking in that just about every creative decision, with a couple of exceptions, has gone very wrong. Bad enough that its makers cravenly chase the gravy train of teen fantasy-melodrama that long ago pulled out of the station with the Twilight series. But the witless manner in which the film desperately searches for the right ideas and moods to convey teen angst is not a pretty sight.
Rarely do films from Hollywood emerge in such an inane manner. Its rote characters are inevitably in predictable situations with no subtext or subtlety to any of their predicaments. Box office should be, appropriately enough, beastly.
The adaptation of Alex Flinn’s novel by writer-director Daniel Barnz (Phoebe in Wonderland) flatters itself that this is a modern update on the Beauty and the Beast legend. An incredibly shallow though popular narcissist, Manhattan prep-school senior Kyle (Alex Pettyfer, the young British actor who following last month’s I Am Number Four is not enjoying a good introduction to movie audiences), gets turned into a “beast” by a witchy fellow student, Kendra (Mary-Kate Olsen).
He has a year to find a girl who will say “I love you” to his unlovely face or he will be forever beastly. His immediate response is to go into hiding in a luxury condo-hideout provided by his father (Peter Krause) who, as a narcissistic broadcast journalist, shares his son’s distaste for unattractive people so can’t wait to eliminate his son from his life.
Oh, where to begin even at this juncture with the miscalculations? Most obviously, Kyle is never made into a beast. As a matter of fact, he is much more interesting in his new incarnation with exotic tattoos and razor cuts all over his bald head and body, looking like a rapper crossed with an NBA superstar.
(For that matter, Kendra, whom Kyle derides as a “Frankenskank,” looks pretty hot for a bottle-blond goth.)
Moments before his transformation, Kyle made friends with a cute fellow student, Lindy (High School Musical’s Vanessa Hudgens), who likes him despite his obnoxious attitude toward everyone, especially women. Well, there’s no accounting for taste but you don’t have to think twice about the source of Kyle’s salvation.
The film does labor to get its hero and heroine together, then comes up with an absurd storyline that has Lindy’s junkie father kill a drug dealer and, fearing for his daughter’s life, agree to stash her in Kyle’s hideaway. Absurdities compound each other: Kyle is also joined in his increasingly popular penthouse by a blind tutor (Neil Patrick Harris) and a Jamaican maid (LisaGay Hamilton), who must constantly coach the oafish teen on how to woo a girl with things other than good looks.
Barnz gives no life to any of these characters, nor does he make their situations the least bit believable. Perhaps most disappointing, since witchcraft underlies much of what is supposedly happening here, is that no sense of magic whatsoever pervades this movie.
Not only is every character and plot point lacking in credibility, the film doesn’t even make the insipid Montreal/Quebec locations fit in with the New York City pickup shots.
What are the exceptions to the film’s countless failures, you ask? Well, the casting isn’t bad, although the actors are adrift in thankless roles. Nevertheless, Olsen has serious sex appeal, Hudgens has a cheerful, likable manner, Harris and Hamilton are always good value even in bad roles and Pettyfer isn’t quite as stiff as he was in I Am Number Four.
The other thing, and indeed the very best thing about this movie, is that it’s only 86 minutes long. For that you must be grateful.
Opens: March 4 (CBS Films)
CBS Films present a Storefront Pictures production
Cast: Vanessa Hudgens, Alex Pettyfer, Mary-Kate Olsen, Peter Krause, LisaGay Hamilton, Dakota Johnson, Erik Knudsen, Neil Patrick Harris
Director/screenwriter: Daniel Barnz
Based on the novel by: Alex Flinn
Producer: Susan Kartsonis
Executive producers: Roz Weisberg, Michael Flynn
Director of photography: Mandy Walker
Production designer: Rusty Smith
Music: Marcelo Zarvos
Costume designer: Suttirat Larlarb
Editor: Thomas J. Nordberg
Rated PG-13, 86 minutes
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Santa Barbara International Film Festival