Beastly (United States, 2011)

March 03, 2011
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Beastly Poster

Beastly is Beauty and the Beast for the Twilight generation. Featuring a cast top-heavy with TV actors and a screenplay that could have been given an assist by Stephanie Meyer, the end result would have ended up on the ABC Family Channel if it had been made by Disney. CBS Films apparently has higher aspirations for this dreadfully mediocre production, although the postponement of its release date (from its originally announced July 2010 to March 2011) may indicate diminished expectations.

Beauty and the Beast is a fairy tale and, when treated as a fantasy, it works as such. Beastly opts not only to modernize the story but to transplant it into the "real world." The result is a contrived mess. Characters act in bizarre ways for no reason other than that's what's required by the story, which follows the Disney version more closely than the original story (or the classic Cocteau interpretation). There are even stand-ins for Lumiere and Mrs. Potts although, sadly, Cogsworth got the ax.

Kyle (Alex Pettyfer) is the most popular boy in his elite private high school, with an ego to match his incredible good looks. He's cruel, callous, and self-absorbed in the extreme. Girls are ornaments to him, designed exclusively to enhance his attractiveness. There's an exception, however: the bookish Lindy (Vanessa Hudgens), who inexplicably gets under his skin. However, before anything can develop between them, he makes the mistake of paying an insult to Kendra the Witch (Mary-Kate Olsen). Her response: take away Kyle's good looks. The curse is reversible, but there's a deadline: he has one year in which to provoke a confession of true love from a girl or he's doomed to remain as-is for the rest of his life. His father provides him with a house where he can hide-out from the world, with his only companions being a housekeeper (Lisa Gay Hamilton) and a blind tutor (Neil Patrick Harris). Eventually, through circumstances too tiresome to describe, Lindy comes to live with Kyle (not knowing who he is, because he looks so different), and he begins the process of getting her to fall in love with him.

I will admit that, with his long flowing locks and classically rugged appearance, Alex Pettyfer is a good-looking guy. He can't act (his "performance" in I Am Number Four backs up this statement), but he is handsome. The process of making him "ugly" stops considerably short of the supposed goal. The end product is a skinhead with some bizarre tattoos and a bad case of acne. Very emo. I guess afflicting him with elephantitis might have upset the swooning girls in the audience, although it would have made for a more compelling story. Lindy is apparently blind since she can't recognize that Kyle with the bald pate is Kyle with the good hair. Must be the Clark Kent/Superman effect, with the hair standing in for the glasses.

Like Pettyfer, Vanessa Hudgens is blessed with amazing looks to go along with her limited acting. She has two modes: moody and hyper-cheerful. Both are annoying, at least in this film. One might expect Neil Patrick Harris to liven things up, but he is kept in check by writer/director Daniel Barnz. And, as with Lisa Gay Hamilton and Mary-Kate Olsen, he is kept firmly in the "supporting" category. Beastly focuses on Pettyfer and Hudgens, which is not a good combination. It's a good thing these two don't generate any sparks, because with all the wood in evidence, the conflagration might exceed what one could expect from a bomb.

Beastly was made with tween girls in mind. It's the kind of love story a viewer can believe in when she is indiscriminating enough to ignore bad acting, bad writing, and mediocre filmmaking. For those who happen to be in the target category, Beastly will likely be welcomed as enjoyable fluff. For those who are not, however, it's 90 minutes better spent doing something else - anything else. Sad to say, the Disney cartoon featured characters who were more three-dimensional and dialogue that was smarter than wittier than anything to be found in this uninspired live-action re-imagining of the classic tale.

Beastly (United States, 2011)

Run Time: 1:28
U.S. Release Date: 2011-03-04
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Sexual Content, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1