1 1/2 stars (out of 4)
One sure sign a fantasy movie has gone off the rails is when it’s easier to believe the supernatural twist than the everyday life around it.
It’s no trouble at all buying Beastly’s paranormal premise that spoiled and snotty 17-year-old Kyle Kingston (Alex Pettyfer) is turned punk by vengeful teen witch Kendra (Mary-Kate Olsen). Kyle has to stay this way until he finds a girl, or maybe a voodoo doll, to love him for who he really is.
Hey, it’s a Beauty and the Beast update for the Twilight set, and Olsen is indeed pretty scary.
Then reality bites and all bets are off.
I say “turned punk” rather than “turned hideous” because Kyle isn’t ugly at all. He looks like a tattoo devotee or Grateful Dead fanatic, not the hairy clawed “monster” described by Alex Flinn, author of the source novel.
Kyle would be right at home in many clubs on Queen West, and I doubt he’d have trouble finding someone to rub scars with.
Yet we’re supposed to think that he’s so hard to look at, even his father (Peter Krause), a shallow TV talking head, can’t bear the sight of him. Kyle is banished to his rich dad’s country mansion, supposedly in a rural corner of Brooklyn (it was actually filmed near Montreal).
While Kyle sulks, evil daddy-o sends in the reinforcements: platitude-spouting housekeeper Zola (Lisa Gay Hamilton) and wisecracking tutor Will (Neil Patrick Harris, who is pretty funny).
Will is blind, and his hiring is no accident. Dad fears a sighted teacher might turn to stone when confronted with a student who looks like Lady Gaga’s goth brother.
The ungovernable script by rookie writer/director Daniel Barnz completely loses control with the idiotic contrivance used to get Kyle’s love interest Lindy (Vanessa Hudgens) into the beastly retreat, adding the requisite beauty to the fable.
Kyle forces Lindy to move in with him by threatening to squeal on some vigilante street justice perpetrated by her pappy. What do you think might upset her more, the kidnapping and blackmailing or the overzealous tattoos?
But even such clumsy wooing might prove no impediment to true love, as long as there are enough roses and poetry to smooth ruffled feathers, and personal epiphanies to bring Beastly wheezing to its obvious conclusion.
What really grates about this movie, apart from the atrocious script, direction and acting, is the premise that “unusual” is synonymous with “ugly.” The transformed Kyle may no longer be the pretty boy he once was, but he’s by no means horrific.
Are the makers of Beastly afraid that the teen demo would run from the thought of love with anyone who doesn’t look like a cover model, which Alex Pettyfer actually is? (This movie and I am Number Four should kill all thoughts of an acting career.)
Beastly is so dumb and dishonest, it can’t even hold true to the Hallmark greeting at its core: “It’s not how others look at me, it’s how I look at myself.”
The mirror shatters, but it’s not because of anything physical.
Peter Howell is a syndicated movie critic for The Toronto Star.