Judge Clark Douglas demands to know: What is an Alex Pettyfer and how do you get rid of it?
Our review of Beastly, published June 24th, 2011, is also available.
Love is never ugly.
"You have a year to make someone love you, or stay like this forever."
Facts of the Case
Kyle (Alex Pettyfer, I Am Number Four) is a big fat jerk. Actually, he's a thin, super-attractive jerk who constantly derides anyone less physically beautiful than himself (read: almost everyone). He just won a race for class president running on a "vote for me because I'm hot and my dad (Peter Krause, Parenthood) is rich" platform (I'm not being snarky; that's actually his campaign slogan). Unfortunately for Kyle, his platform is particularly irksome to a fellow classmate/witch named Kendra (Mary-Kate Olsen, Full House). Kendra places a spell on Kyle, transforming the hot hunk of popularity into a heavily tattooed, heavily scarred, intense-looking social misfit. If Kyle can't make someone truly love with him within a year, he'll be stuck with his tattoos and scars forever. Can Kyle persuade the kind-hearted Lindy (Vanessa Hudgens, High School Musical) to fall for him?
Beastly is a terrifying example of cinematic trendiness gone awry. For some inexplicable reason, it has suddenly become fashionable to offer new twists on familiar fairy tales. There's nothing inherently wrong with that idea, but Beastly is a film which delivers a concept at the expense of…well, everything else. This is one of the most maddeningly incomprehensible films I've witnessed lately; a movie which plays as if a 13-year-old girl and a sentient copy of US Weekly joined forces to write a screenplay via text message based on a trending twitter topic.
Imagine for a moment that the original tale of Beauty and the Beast does not exist. Okay. Then consider the notion that Beastly is simply an original modern-day fantasy based on nothing outside of an idea the writers came up with. If observed on those terms, the film is nothing short of ridiculous. The preposterous scenario which causes Lindy to go live with a horribly scarred young man she doesn't know? The contrived plot developments involving Lindy's father? The stupid prank Kyle pulls on Kendra early in the film? These scenes are nonsensical, but some will accept them simply because they directly mirror moments from a familiar tale. "It's just like the fairy tale!" they will exclaim. Yes, except the fairy tale wasn't excruciatingly stupid.
Amusingly, the story is not so much based on the original fairy tale as on the 1991 Disney version of the fairy tale. I suspect this is partially due to the fact that the film's primary audience (teenage girls) will only be familiar with the Disney version, and partially that the filmmakers have more interest in simply placing the familiar in a new setting than in finding a new way to tell a story with rich potential. Even Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother) and Lisa Gay Hamilton (Men of a Certain Age) are basically playing thinly-veiled variations on Cogsworth and Lumiere (though it's hard to tell which is which). I don't even have a problem with a modern twist on the Disney version (which is a great film, incidentally); I have a problem with the fact that the writers have completely failed at the task of making the premise seem any less ridiculous that it initially sounds.
Of course, the problem is exacerbated by the poor characters. At one point, Harris tells Kyle, "It's not about how others see you; it's how you see yourself. I know that's a mental Rubik's cube, but you'll understand eventually." It's meant to be a joke, but that sort of statement actually is a mental Rubik's cube for Kyle, whose density surpasses that of most rocks. Kyle is the sort of character who figures things out about an hour after the rest of us; though the fact that Lindy is of similar intelligence permits him to get away with this. Pettyfer and Hudgens both demonstrate that they were picked for their magazine-ready looks (yes, even the beastly Kyle is given a kind of goth-y attractiveness, which sort of deflates the film's point) rather than their acting talent. The less said about Ms. Olsen's performance, the better. The biggest problem is that Kyle is such a grating character early on that it becomes very difficult to care about him in the slightest later in the film. Personally, I wanted Kyle to find love about as much as Jonah wanted the Ninevites to escape judgment day.
At least Beastly looks decent in hi-def, as the film benefits from a stellar transfer. Detail is solid throughout, though the film itself has a somewhat underwhelming TV movie look (it would be easy to mistake the film for an extended CW pilot). Black levels could be a little stronger and shadow delineation isn't quite as impressive as it could be, but these problems are both minor. Flesh tones are warm and natural throughout. Audio is considerably more problematic, as some of the dialogue is so quiet that it's nearly inaudible. This can be solved by cranking up the volume, but then you're going to get blasted out of the room when the energetic, pop-music fueled montages (and there are quite a few) appear. Supplements are thin: two glossy, disposable featurettes ("A Classic Tale Retold: The Story of Beastly" and "Creating the Perfect Beast"), some deleted scenes, an alternate ending a music video featuring Kristina and the Dolls.
Admittedly, I'm not the target audience for this film. However, those who dig this sort of thing really deserve better than the sort of half-baked garbage Beastly delivers. This is one ugly, irredeemable little movie, and no amount of magic is ever going to change that.
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