By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
Some movie titles provide their own reviews. Take this one, for instance.
Inner beauty is what the teen romantic fantasy Beastly is all about. And doesn’t have.
The problem is not that this cliché-riddled retelling of the “Beauty and the Beast” fairy tale set in a contemporary New York City high school and told from the point-of-view of the beast is just for teenagers — although it is. It’s that it seems as if it were concocted by teens as well.
No offense to those with most of their lives still ahead of them, but that’s not a compliment.
Alex Pettyfer, currently the “I” in I Am Number Four, is handsome 17-year-old Kyle Kingson, whose narcissistic elitism and mean streak show when he humiliates a Goth outcast, Kendra Hilferty, played by Mary-Kate Olsen, at a school event, insensitively discarding her as if she were a no-longer-needed prop in the school play.
But what he doesn’t realize is that she’s a witch.
And her vengeful response, understandable under the circumstances, is to cast a spell on him that physically transforms him into the unrecognizable Adrian King, a grotesquely disfigured monster.
That is, he’s supposed to be a grotesquely disfigured monster. But all director Daniel Barnz can bring himself to do to his obnoxious focal character is to give him a smattering of tattoos and scars and piercings. Perish the thought that he should actually look hideous or deformed or off-putting.
Then, well, you know the drill: to break the spell and lift the curse, the “severely unattractive” youth must find someone to love him despite the way he looks.
For the fuzziest of strained narrative reasons, Kyle’s shallow and distant broadcaster father (Peter Krause) banishes him to his country mansion in Brooklyn, where he is accompanied by a wise Jamaican housekeeper (Lisa Gay Hamilton) and a wiseacre blind tutor (Neil Patrick Harris).
Why? Who knows. Who cares. Who writes this stuff?
Contemplating how to reclaim his old life, Kyle happens upon a drug addict while he is in the act of killing a threatening dealer. Kyle promises to gain freedom for the addict, as well as safety for his daughter, Lindy, played by co-star Vanessa Hudgens, if she agrees to live in his home in Brooklyn.
“I’ve seen worse,” Lindy says to and about him when he presents himself to her.
So have we. We’ve seen worse movies as well, but not nearly as many as you might think.
This is the second feature for writer-director Barnz (a step backward for an auteur with the impressive Phoebe in Wonderland (2009), a wonderfully acted fable, behind him), who based his Beastly screenplay on the 2007 young adult novel of the same name by Alex Flinn.
Barnz intends for his updated, non-musical tale of true love to be a heartwarmer for the Twilight set. But its heart and head are in the wrong places and it never really manages to translate the array of familiar plot points into anything even remotely credible or resonant, even by fairy tale standards.
Barnz’s film, the various parts of which don’t come close to meshing into an organic work, is so full of empty filler that it exists somewhere on the scale between natural and supernatural without seeming to be either.
As for teen heartthrob Pettyfer, if he was underwhelming in I Am Number Four (which he was, in spades), he’s even worse here. Posing and acting are not, the last time I checked, the same thing.
So we’ll cast a spell on 1½ stars out of 4 for this misguided but mercifully brief PG-13-rated supernatural love story for the teen demographic. Beauty may remain where it’s always been, but Beastly is a poke in the eye of the beholder.