By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — We are, once again, in the Twilight zone.
Like the producers of the recent Warm Bodies, the makers of the romantic drama Beautiful Creatures would love nothing more than to fill the young-adult supernatural-romance vacuum created by the completion of the Twilight saga and give those Twihards something they desperately want to see.
But don’t bank on it.
Beautiful Creatures is a supernatural saga set in the south that’s short on beauty, even in the eyes of its beholders.
In the realm of young mortals loving immortals and vice versa, vampires, werewolves, and zombies have already been accounted for. So it’s apparently time to see just which witch is which.
Can wizards and warlocks be far behind? Vampires, zombies, and witches — oh my!
Anyway, Alden Ehrenreich is Ethan Wate, a thoughtful and literate mortal teen, and an avid reader of banned books, who can’t wait to escape his sleepy South Carolina town of Gatlin.
Then comes the first day of his sophomore year and SHE shows up, the new girl in town, the spitting image of the woman Ethan has been dreaming about.
She is Lena Duchannes, played by Alice Englert, a newcomer to town whose arrival gets Ethan’s attention the moment she steps through the door of their classroom.
They quickly bond over shared interests, mild social alienation, and mutual attraction.
But there’s a major obstacle to the romantic relationship Ethan fantasizes about. They’re star-crossed because the rumors about her family are true: she’s actually a “Caster,” (as in spell caster), a type of witch who can do magical things like manipulate the weather.
And her sixteenth birthday is just around the corner. That’s when her supernatural powers will come into bloom and she must undergo the Claiming, a process that will decide her fate, willy-nilly. She’ll end up using her powers for either good or evil, but not both.
Writer-director Richard LaGravenese (Living Out Loud, Freedom Writers, PS I Love You), whose prejudice- and tolerance-themed screenplay is adapted from the novel of the same name (the first installment in a four-volume series, “Caster Chronicles”, by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl) struggles to overcome the degree of contempt-breeding familiarity that’s built into the material.
He does get considerable mileage out of his seasoned supporting cast, which includes Oscar winner Jeremy Irons as Lena’s uncle, Oscar winner Emma Thompson in the dual roles of Lena’s mother and community leader Mrs. Lincoln, Oscar nominee Viola Davis as Ethan’s nanny and caregiver, and Emmy Rossum as Lena’s cousin and ex-best friend.
On the scenery-consuming front, Thompson outchews Irons, but not by much. And who can blame these talented Brits for having a field day with their southern-fried American accents?
But the problem is that the machinations of the plot, which ought to help bring the characters to some kind of three-dimensional life, instead just keep these two-dimensional constructs busy and preoccupied. When it should be heating up, the film merely winds down to its inevitable resolution.
So we’ll bewitch 2 stars out of 4 for the so-so Southern Gothic fantasy Beautiful Creatures, an exercise in generic franchise-building that barely casts a spell.