“Beauty and the Beast” gets a makeover in this high school morality tale that recasts the old fairy tale for the “Twilight” audience. Perhaps such cosmetic surgery might have worked if the execution were better, but in the hands of writer-director Daniel Barnz “Beastly” resembles nothing more than a chintzy Afterschool Special with supernatural overtones, poorly written, amateurishly acted and cheesily made.
Alex Pettyfer, the handsome but wooden hunk from “I Am Number Four,” stars as Kyle, an arrogant student at a ritzy NYC academy. Campaigning for a class office, he gives a speech about good looks trumping all else that insults one of his opponents, pretty but demure Lindy (Vanessa Hudgens), and even more campus witch Kendra (Mary-Kate Olsen)—after all, doesn’t every school have one?
After Kendra defaces Kyle’s election posters, he decides to get back at her by inviting her to a big school bash and then having her ejected. In retaliation she puts a curse on him, turning him into an ugly semi-punk type and telling him he’ll stay that way permanently unless within a year he can find a girl who will say she loves him. Kyle’s dad Rob (Peter Krause), the TV news anchor who imbued his son with the obsession over physical appearance while ignoring the boy, quickly shuttles him to an out-of-the-way apartment where he’ll be cared for by kindly Caribbean housekeeper Zola (Lisa Gay Hamilton) and tutored by a sharp-tongued (but fortuitously blind) teacher named Will (Neil Patrick Harris).
The tale takes a predictable turn when Kyle learns his lesson about true beauty residing in a caring heart. The point comes to him after, skulking about at night to spy on Lily, he rescues her drug-addict father (Roc LaFortune) from his supplier and then offers to take the girl in to protect her from retaliation. Romance buds, then blooms—but will Lily say the magic words before fadeout and restore Kyle, who now understands the meaning of inner beauty, to his princely form?
Barnz’s screenplay is a lumpy mess, rife with dialogue that would be lame even if it were better delivered by Pettyfer, whose male model physique is unfortunately coupled with a distinctly limited range, and Hudgens, who comes across as simpering here (as she didn’t—at least not to the same degree—in her earlier pictures). Harris gets by with his cynical air, and Hamilton with her dignified one (at least until their final pre-credit scene, when both mawkishly benefit from Kyle’s redemption). But Olsen’s turn as the origin of the curse is about as subtle as Bette Midler’s in “Hocus Pocus” (remember that Disney horror?), and Krause is far below his best, too. The other young players—Dakota Johnson as Kyle’s erstwhile girlfriend Sloan and Erik Knudsen as his one-time lackey Trey—are even more amateurish than Pettyfer and Hudgens.
“Beastly” looks cheaply made, too, with mediocre production values (some of the backgrounds in the building rooftop scenes are ridiculously phony, and the “passage of time” greenhouse sequence there is pretty pathetic) and cinematography by Mandy Walker that’s too often murky, especially in the nighttime shots. And the editing by Todd E. Miller and Thomas J. Nordberg is clumsy, moving clunkily from moment to moment and relying far too much on puerile musical montages.
The result is a movie that, if you add a British accent and a “perfectly,” is quite aptly titled.