by Glenn Lovell
On the face of it, it sounds like a nifty high-concept idea: a teen version of “Beauty and the Beast,” with the Prince now a super-jerk Adonis named Kyle who offends a witch-y fellow student and pays the price by losing his (OMG!) ravishing good looks.
Unfortunately, “Beastly,” based on the teen novel by Alex Flinn, doesn’t make the “Twilight” zone as a new twist on an old fairy tale. It’s tone deaf (do students today really say “hurl chunks” and “Too cool for school”?), predictably plotted, and filled with drippy love songs that would embarrass Bryan Ferry.
What passes for dialogue runs the gamut from “What the!” exclamations to “Being on the ‘in’ isn’t all that.”
Worse, Kyle and his potential do-gooder savior, Lindy, are weak even by AfterSchool Special standards. Alex Pettyfer, also now in “I Am Number Four,” plays the suddenly ostracized beast as if he has been momentarily inconvenienced by a pimple or two. Vanessa Hudgens of Disney’s “High School Musical” series, fares little better: Her La Belle is a student activist who’s supposed to represent Kyle’s emotional opposite. The long shots of Lindy volunteering at a free clinic are undone by the I’m-so-frickin’-bored texting from this movie’s version of exile, a riverfront condo.
A typically sardonic Neil Patrick Harris mediates as Kyle’s blind (read all-seeing) tutor. He cuts through the B.S. to the unvarnished Truth. Not hard, given the combined IQs of the principals.
“Beastly” opens like the end of Brian De Palma’s “Carrie” with Kyle inviting goth queen Kendra (Mary-Kate Olsen under black eyeliner ) to a dance. It’s all a prank, of course, to humiliate the “Franken-skank.” She takes sweet revenge by putting a spell on the bland blond god. Suddenly, he’s bald with pustules and silver veins popping out all over. “You have a year to find somebody who loves you … or stay like this forever,” Kendra informs him with no little relish.
Since this movie is meant for young teen girls, Kyle becomes cute-ugly rather than nauseating-ugly. Indeed, his scars look like artfully applied tribal tattoos. Fans of “Moby Dick” will realize he’s been Queequeg’d. This beastly new countenance wouldn’t draw a second look on most campuses today.
Which explains why Kyle is only marginally sorry for his obnoxious behavior. He’s a whole lot cooler after the curse than before.
BEASTLY ✮ With Alex Pettyfer, Vanessa Hudgens, Neil Patrick Harris, Mary-Kate Olsen. Directed, scripted by Daniel Barnz from novel by Alex Flinn. 95 minutes. PG-13 (for language, vaguely nauseating makeup effects)