A film review by Craig J. Koban July 6, 2011

  

BEASTLY j

2011, PG-13, 86 mins.

Alex Pettyfer: Kyle / Vanessa Hudgens: Lindy / Mary-Kate Olsen: Kendra / Neil Patrick Harris: Will / Lisa Gay Hamilton: Zola

Written and directed by Daniel Barnz, based on the Alex Flinn novel

You know that you’re in trouble when a film as bewilderingly awful as BEASTLY is (a) based on literature and (b) has an Olson twin cast as a Goth-inspired, spell casting witch.

BEASTLY does make countless other artistic blunders, but perhaps the only thing that it can’t be held accountable for is that it is another in a long string of recent releases from CBS Movie Studios, whose films thus far have ranged from decidedly disappointing fare like THE BACK UP PLAN and EXTRAORDINARY MEASURES.  

The finest accolade that I could bestow upon BEASTLY is that it is wholeheartedly merciful at a scant 86 minutes: 90-plus and it would have been borderline unendurable.  The film is, like, the umpteenth attempt to take the classic BEAUTY AND THE BEAST story and formula and appropriate it into a modern day love drama that has nearly all of its searing romance, gentle sincerity, and heart stripped away.  Instead, we get a pathetic attempt to appease the non-discerning teeny-bopper TWILIGHT – or TWIHARD – fundamentalists with attractive, but emotionally vacant actors populating a loathsomely routine narrative that is as equally passionless.  BEASTLY is based on a 2007 novel by Alex Flinn of the same name.  I have not read it, but if this film is a carbon copy translation, than I could accurately label the book as insipidly one-dimensional and laughably shallow. 

BEASTLY is alike BEVERLEY HILLS 90210 meets BEAUTY AND THE BEAST meets GOSSIP GIRL, which is as undesirable of a mixture as any adult viewer could possibly imagine.  It's set in modern day New York and, I dunno, contemporizing the material seems to be a miscalculation of some sort.  The film introduces us to Kyle Kingsbury (a woefully bland Alex Pettyfer), a disgustingly wealthy and annoyingly rich private high school student that just happens to be the most popular guy at school, despite the fact that he goes out of his way – even in front of vast numbers of people – to be misogynistic, rude, overbearing, self-absorbed, obsessively vain, racist, and overall unseemly.  The fact that he looks like a perfectly cut GQ cover model makes him all the more detestable, but he’s even more hateful for how he uses his looks to lure in woman that he essentially sees as conquests instead of people with feelings.  One girl, though, gets under his narcissist façade and she is the shy, but pretty Lindy (Vanessa Hudgens), a girl that is not his type, but that he inexplicably seems drawn to. 

Before anything serious can materialize between Lindy and Kyle, the latter makes a categorical blunder during a school environmental event.  He decides that he would be fun to bully and ridicule a fellow student, an eccentric and moody looking girl named Kendra (Mary-Kate Olsen) for being unattractive and undesirable.  What Kyle does not know is that Kendra is actually a powerful witch, so powerful that she secretly casts a cruel spell on Kyle to teach him a much needed lesson in humility.  In short: her spell takes away his good looks.  Nooooooo!!!!

Yes, the witch turns Kyle into a monster, but not of the furry and teeth-clenched variety.  He essentially has his hair removed and is adorned with tattoos and piercings that make him look like a walking graffiti billboard.  Nonetheless, Kyle is deeply traumatized by his newfound "beastly" appearance and confronts Kendra, who informs him that he is doomed to stay this way forever unless – wait for it! – he can provoke a confession of true and undying love from a girl.  He does have a time table to complete is task: he has until next spring.  Kyle’s father, a largely unsympathetic and uncaring lawyer, is horrified by his son’s spectacular fall from good looks, so he does what any other affluent man of privilege would do for his new deformed son: set him up at a private condo and keep him away from the public altogether.  Thanks a pantload, dad. 

 

 

Kyle does have two companions, both of whom seem to spectacularly have no real issues with Kyle’s sudden appearance change.  Granted, one is conveniently blind, which helps in that regard.  His first live-in companion is the house maid, Zola (Lisa Gay Hamilton) and the other is a visually impaired tutor played by NPH himself, Neil Patrick Harris, whom either deserves props from affectionately hamming it up in a totally nothing role or should fire his agent for allowing a comedically talented actor like him to wallow in this film’s dreck.  Even though Kyle does find solace in his two friends, he remains emotionally wounded not only because of his curse, but because his father has all but abandoned him as well.  Gee, if only, say, Lindy could find a way to come and live with Kyle, grow to see a handsome man buried within his ghastly appearance, and fall in love with him to break his curse? 

It’s one thing to call BEASTLY a contrived, ham-infested, and maudlin fiasco, but the film also manages to commit serious and oftentimes stunning errors in even modest logic.  I laughed at how many lead characters in the film don’t ever seem to be even remotely bothered by Kyle’s new appearance, which, by the way, falls considerably short of coming off as monstrous or truly hideous at all; Kyle basically looks like a male version of Lisbeth Salander from THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO.  He, more or less, looks like the victim of a really, really bad trip to the salon and piercing parlor.  Then there are other things, like Kyle’s peculiar attraction to Lindy, the events that lead to her living with him, and even the more eye-rolling extremes of how she never once – not for a second – recognizes that this “freak” is actually Kyle.  Yup.  Sure.  Uh huh.  

This all leads to another massive problem with the film: I rarely, if ever, felt like I wanted these two souls together.  Hudgens and Pettyfer are limitlessly attractive people, but they have zero on-screen chemistry beyond what the screenplay pathetically manufactures for them.  Then there is Kyle himself, who is such a hateful cretin of a man pre-transformation that you almost yearn for him to fail in his quest and remain beastly forever.  The man is just…a repugnant douche bag that constantly pontificates on how “people like people who look good” and shows, in turn, an unending hatred for all those that are not as good looking as he.  He hates “hatchet faces”, “guts with butts,” and “fatty cakes.” When not picking apart others’ looks, he often comes off as a textbook bigot.  This is leading man material that that you want to root for?  This man deserves a beating…or at the very least a witch’s spell being cast against him.

BEASTLY is so unbearably mawkish as a romance picture that it becomes really hard to take it seriously at all, or at least as solemnly as it takes itself.  It’s one of those typical and perfunctory early spring bombs that that only sees the light of day in theatres at that time because releasing at any other high marquee period would be suicide.  I pondered on two things, though, while watching it when I was not squirming in my chair and feverously checking my watch.  Firstly, Pettyfer, high on looks but very low on charisma or charm, has made a recent bad-boy reputation for calling L.A. and Hollywood a “shithole” and labeling the acting profession as “like being in prison.”  Alex, babe, if you hate the game so much – and the end result of BEASTLY and I AM NUMBER FOUR reveal anything – then you need to please spare us and leave…now.  Lastly, director Daniel Barnz said he was inspired by SAY ANYTHING when making BEASTLY. 

Hmmmm…that comment makes me wonder if he has even seen that John Cusack 1980's classic at all, or any version of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST for that matter.

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