Takashi Seida/CBS Films
Beastly Boy ... And Girl: Riffing on a Disney classic, Beastly imagines Alex Pettyfer (left) as a magically deformed high school student who falls in love with Lindy (Vanessa Hudgens), the local damsel in distress.
- Director: Daniel Barnz
- Genre: Romantic Drama
- Running Time: 95 minutes
Rated PG 13 for language including some crude comments, drug references and brief violence.
With: Alex Pettyfer, Vanessa Hudgens, Mary-Kate Olsen, Neil Patrick Harris
There are three things you should know about Beastly.
The first is that there's a moment when a character speaks the words "falling in love with you," and the next thing you hear is the soundtrack cooing the words, "Falling in love with you." What good is a climactic romantic declaration, after all, if you only hear it once?
The second is that there's a moment that inspired the thought in at least one admittedly cynical critic: "If the heroine of this movie is about to get killed in a bus accident on the way to Machu Picchu, I'm going to respect it a lot more."
The third is that there are flashes of genuine wit and charm that, while they cannot support the rest, hint at what was intended and not realized.
Beastly is a Beauty and The Beast story, transported to a high school that looks like a glassed-in bank lobby where Kyle (Alex Pettyfer) is running for president of the campus environmentalists in a schoolwide election. (Oh, don't start with questions now; you'll exhaust yourself.)
Kyle declares in his speech that he only wants the position to goose his transcript, but he says everyone should vote for him anyway, because he's so good-looking. "WOOOO!" yell his fellow students, flush with the fevered excitement typical of the politics of high school recyclables.
Kyle enrages the school witch (Mary-Kate Olsen — really!), so she casts a spell that turns him ugly. If he doesn't find love within the year, he will stay ugly forever. In Kyle's case, becoming ugly consists of (1) going bald, (2) getting a lot of what look like bitchin' tattoos, and (3) changing his name to "Hunter."
Despite the fact that he would fare quite well in many drinking establishments, Hunter is packed off to a secret hideout by his humiliated father. His father is played by Peter Krause (of television's Parenthood and Six Feet Under), who brings the big acting with lines like one he frantically delivers to a doctor about his newly gnarled offspring: "BUT WHAT ABOUT SKIN GRAFTS AND FACE TRANSPLANTS?"
Takashi Seida/CBS Films
Yes, that really is Mary-Kate Olsen as an eccentrically coiffed witchy woman who turns high school heartthrob Kyle (Alex Pettyfer) into a tattooed baldie.
Yes, that really is Mary-Kate Olsen as an eccentrically coiffed witchy woman who turns high school heartthrob Kyle (Alex Pettyfer) into a tattooed baldie. Takashi Seida/CBS Films
Through a convoluted series of events, Hunter winds up sheltering his former classmate Lindy (Vanessa Hudgens) after she suffers an injury that is supposedly the result of violence but looks in Hudgens' hands like it might be untreated narcolepsy. Thus does their courtship begin, with the help of Neil Patrick Harris as Will, a sort of blind Jiminy Cricket, and Lisa Gay Hamilton totally wasted as (sigh) a Jamaican housekeeper.
After Lindy arrives, there are flickers of winking, good-natured humor that elevate a few scenes to the point where they're kind of fun. Much like Disney's Beauty and The Beast (and this is the only place this comparison will be made), this story isn't afraid to reduce its arrogant beast to a fool for love. Those are the moments when Pettyfer is passably appealing and Harris — while he's not doing anything he hasn't done a hundred times as a similar wingman on How I Met Your Mother — is a great help.
But all good humor must come to an end, and a love story has to be able to fall back on tenderness and sweetness eventually. Unfortunately, every time Beastly reaches for either of those things, it's ... really bad.
Pettyfer isn't as competent at sincerity as he is at self-deprecation, but the bigger problem is Hudgens. It's hard to fault an actress for playing a nothing character as a nothing character, but Hudgens can't manage either the comedy or the sentiment. As cruel as it is to suggest someone is perfectly suited to an endless string of High School Musical sequels, you would be forgiven for thinking maybe Hunter should call the witch instead.
Written and directed by Daniel Barnz from Alex Flinn's novel, Beastly seems to have been intended as a light but sweet Beast update, not so much copying the Twilight girl-ghoul trope as having a bit of fun with it. (There is a dourness to the Twilight movies that Beastly, for all its faults, doesn't share.)
You can see the movie they wanted to make peeking out from behind a goofy sequence of gifts Hunter delivers to try to impress Lindy, or his rapport with Will, or the way a grand romantic gesture involves reading Gardening for Dummies. There's a tiny spark here, but it's surrounded by such poor execution and such weak performances that it can't come to life. Gaggles of girls who watch Beastly at slumber parties will, in fairness, have a good time, but there's little to recommend it for anyone else.