I’m a half-century too old for such tween swill as that which is regurgitated in CBS Films’ “Beastly,” another in the ever-expanding clones of “Twilight” wannabes where a young, bare-chested, handsome (to some) teenage lad (former model Alex Pettyfer) sends all the young lassies in the audience into a tizzy. Toss in some witchcraft, pouting, bad parenting, and you have claptrap only a misguided teenage girl could adore. As for this demographically-challenged critic, this is not your dad’s, grandad’s, mom’s, or grandmom’s (I’m in this group somewhere) cup of tea up there on the screen. Pettyfer’s failure to ignite a boxoffice rush to see his recent “I Am Number Four,” coupled with this poorly acted, written, and directed modern-day update of the Beauty and the Beast legend, an adaptation of the young adult novel of the same title by Alex Flinn, does not mean it won’t make money. The targeted audience will probably be out at the mall cineplexes in droves. Parents will mercifully pay for their daughters to swoon away an hour-and-a-half while moms shop at Bloomingdales and dads check out the buzz on the iPad 2 at the Apple store. Between popcorn munches and soda sippings, all those young girls will be tweeting and texting their friends about the 20-year-old (playing 17 in the movie) as an animal magnet. The film’s marketing personnel are depending on the innocence of these fad-driven, money-to-spend lemmings. Nothing new there.
As the self-absorbed, uber-arrogant pretty boy Kyle Kingsbury, son of a like-minded television news anchor single dad (Peter Krause), he seems to have the student body at his beck-and-call at Buckston Academy High School in Manhattan. Rich, popular (for all the wrong reasons) and pompous, his motto is “Embrace the Suck” and his interests, per a school webpage, are “anything bangable.” He doesn’t notice the unassuming classmate Lindy Taylor (“High School Musical” alum Vanessa Hudgens) until the night when fellow student Kendra, a very gothed-up and over-humiliated Mary-Kate Olsen, puts a curse on him. By the time he gets back to the family apartment, he’s disfigured, bald and scar(r)ed, destined to remain so until he can find someone to love him within a year—”when the spring flowers bloom” (ugh!)—and they do in the tattoos on his arms. Personally I liked the anatomical Christmas Tree decorations better.
Kyle’s father’s solution is to pack him off to Brooklyn (actually most of the film was shot in Canada) with the family’s Jamaican housekeeper Zola (LisaGay Hamilton) who has her own family issues, and a blind, dart-throwing tutor Will (Neil Patrick Harris, the best part of the film, but not enough to save it). Kyle, whose absence is explained as a stint in rehab, ventures back to his school “in disguise” at a Halloween party and gets to work, childishly at first and then with a little thought, at wooing Lindy. That “little thought” would later involve Bulgari, cheating and one of those dummies books, for starters. After having stalked her, then saving her when her drug-addicted father gets her in a jam, a friendly kidnap situation segues. She’s ensconced in an upstairs bedroom at his flat, wooed with Jujyfruits, roses, a rooftop greenhouse, and, naturally, Kyle himself, rechristening himself Hunter for Lindy so she won’t “recognize” him. It’s the same old beauty is only skin deep story.
And, of course, that story ends up exactly how you expect it will. Some additional shenanigans, courtesy of Kendra, pushed me to wonder if “Beastly” might have been better of as a prettied-up ‘your wishes can come true’ telefeature.
Barnz, on his second feature as a director after 2008’s indie effort “Phoebe in Wonderland,” doesn’t really seem to have gotten the best from his actors, and Pettyfer’s performance is as believable as finding gold on the moon. Hudgens has a better acting sense, but I was put off by her perfect makeup and lipstick. And Kyle’s newscaster dad seems totally ignorant of the fact that he’s a father. Bad writing. The adaptation by Barnz isn’t very exciting, but instead, a romance-by-the-numbers affair with neighborhood strolls and visits to the zoo. Pushed back from a release originally schedule for last July, this should wash out past New York harbor for most of us in a week or two.