At first, I wasn't sure if Beastly was simply a terrible movie, or perhaps one of the greatest satires on teen romance fiction I had ever seen. All I know is, for the first fifteen minutes I was almost bursting at the seams trying not to laugh; mostly at lines of dialogue that I'm pretty certain weren't meant to be funny. Add to that a noisy collection of vaguely plot-related "hip" tunes by today's "top" artists, bizarre editing previously only seen when Bingo the Chimp drank an entire case of energy drinks, and dialogue that would make a 3rd grader sigh in exasperation, and you've got a recipe for disaster. But at the same time, somehow the romance in Beastly is more believable than in the Twilight series, so there is that.
Alex Pettyfer (I Am Number Four) is Kyle, who you can tell is vapid, shallow, and almost completely irredeemable, as he is running for class president on the platform of, "Look How Good-Looking I Am!" No, I did not make that up; the movie introduces the main character by having him tell everyone in the school that ugly people suck, vote for him. And then he wins! However, the movie then pulls a 180 and says he is not completely terrible by having him finally notice school treasurer Lindy (Vanessa Hudgens, High School Musical 1-3) and actually enjoy her company during the victory party. The meeting is brief, however, as Mandatory School Witch™ (Mary-Kate Olsen, in an odd casting choice) shows up at the party to be roundly (and bizarrely) insulted by Kyle, at which point he's suddenly turned into Maynard James Keenan, only slightly less frightening. Distraught at his new looks, he retreats into seclusion in one of the (apparently many) houses his father owns, cutting himself off from society until he learns to understand beauty isn't skin deep, and that the girl he's just met is the only one who can give him redemption.
Yes, it is, in fact, a complete and utter update of the Beauty and the Beast story, right down to the girl living with him because the father owes him a debt. Heck, I was shocked that there weren't singing and dancing kitchen appliances showing up halfway through. About the only new additions to the whole thing are the friendly housekeeper (Lisa Gay Hamilton) and the blind tutor (Neil Patrick Harris) hired to keep Kyle smart while he's away from school for an entire year. And thank God they are in this movie; the two of them are only things that keep it remotely watchable. Harris is at his snarky, sarcastic best, and can actually deliver lines of horrendous dialogue like "High School sucks" with some believability. Unfortunately, this does not excuse anybody else of this activity; even the high-schoolers, who really would say things like "The thinking thing? KILLED!" just sound ridiculous. I understand this is not my demographic being appealed to here (the opening scene of a shirtless Kyle working out made that clear), but despite the source material, these characters are not Romeo & Juliet either.
Speaking of which, the chemistry between the leads is merely okay; granted, as I've mentioned it is worlds above the stilted, laugh-inducing woodenness in other, recent fantasy-based films, it isn't the type of love to spark fires the world over. I will give it credit in one instance; without giving away the ending (which I probably don't need to if you've seen any version of Beauty and the Beast), it does successfully pull off the old, "Wait, wait, no, bring him back" technique. Other than that, the only other thing that could be considered romantic is a scene in which they sneak into the zoo after closing. Because, as we all know, breaking and entering is incredibly romantic and sure to win any woman's heart. Granted, it's a much healthier activity than stalking Lindy through dark and dirty streets while wearing the world's most suspicious-looking black hoodie, but hey, it's a romance, that sort of thing is okay for the lead to do, right?
But all of this could be overlooked if the movie wasn't an over edited mess, leaping from one scene to another without taking a breath; going from a short scene of talking to an overblown scene with Death Cab for Cutie blaring over the sound system for no good reason whatsoever. Sometimes this editing leads to hilarity (a montage of Kyle in the throes of loneliness suddenly cuts to him climbing a rock wall which is never mentioned again), but mostly it keeps the movie from setting any consistent tone. After fifteen minutes of nothing but exposition fired at the audience, Beastly can't decide if it wants to be goofily funny, biting satire, cutesy romance, brooding romance, a vehicle for a Neil Patrick Harris sitcom about the world's greatest blind professor, or anything worth remembering after you walk out of the theater. In a way, it's harmless enough, but the premise offered so much more than just a stupid teen romp. I can give it praise for its effects make-up (it is a lot more detailed than it appears on first glance, and Pettyfer should get a nod for wearing it like he really was as scarred up as he looks), and it has a mercifully short running time, but it's not enough to cover every single plot hole (such as, how does a school treasurer work with someone gifted in public speaking for three years and not recognize his voice coming out of this mysterious stranger?), nor is it enough to make it worth paying full price to see.
But then, I'm not the audience Beastly is after. If you simply must find a movie to drag your boyfriend to, this will probably be an acceptable date movie. Those of you who love heckling stuff with your friends will love it when it comes to the small screen. All others can find something much more to your liking elsewhere.
Rating: ONE AND A HALF BONES
Release Date: March 4th, 2011
Starring: Alex Pettyfer, Vanessa Hudgens, Mary-Kate Olsen, Neil Patrick Harris, Erik Knudsen, and Dakota Johnson
Director: Daniel Barnz
Writer: Daniel Barnz