Beastly is the absolute wrong choice of a name for a film as flawed as this one. Choose a name like that and you've just set yourself up for a batch of beastly jokes. However, because it's based on the young adult novel by Alex Flinn of the same name (which I have not read and therefore can't say how faithful the film is to the book), I assume that even after seeing the final cut the studio had no choice but to live with the title.
This updated take on the classic Beauty and the Beast tale starts off badly and then finds its footing for a few minutes - just enough time to make us have hope the worst is over and the rocky start was just a bit of jitters from a writer/director with only one other film under his belt. But, alas, the bad start was an omen of things to come. Beastly's big message is to look beyond the surface and find inner beauty, however the film itself is as shallow as it gets. The set-up is inane, the characters are no more than cardboard cut-outs (with one exception I'll get to later), and so many wrong choices are made it's difficult to single out any one. Beastly's the perfect storm of bad decisions.
The StoryKyle Kingson (Alex Pettyfer) is rich and good-looking, and that means he can get by with treating everyone but the most beautiful of his peers like crap. It also means he's popular because, you know, he's rich and good-looking. We meet Kyle when he's giving one of the most despicable, horribly written campaign speeches in the history of the world. He wants to be in charge of the 'green' committee and apparently the competition for such a position is fierce. Mind you, he's not campaigning for student body president or any such thing. It's the 'green' committee at a high school, to which my response in the theater was, "Huh?"
So Kyle tells his fellow students that if you're ugly, you don't count. No one questions his delusional point of view as they're either in awe of his power, blinded by his looks, or scared to death of the possibility of being the victim of one of his putdowns. But there's a witchy woman walking around his school who isn't afraid of Kyle's popularity and isn't charmed by his looks. Backing up a bit here to explain that I say 'woman' because this character, Kendra, is played by Mary-Kate Olsen who doesn't look like she's in high school anymore, but does look great all gothed-up. Despite the fact she obviously loathes Kyle, she semi-accepts his invitation to a dance. Why? Because she thinks he might actually have something redeeming in him and is willing to give him one shot at proving himself. However, when she turns up at the dance Kyle's got his nasty-face on and Kendra's had enough of his narcissistic ways. She curses him, turning his handsome face into a mass of tattoos and gaping cuts. His gorgeous hair's gone and there are what look like staples across his nose. But this curse does have a cure. If he meets a girl before the end of one year and she says she loves him, then he'll return to normal. If not, it's so long GQ model, hello heartbreak and loneliness.
Now in beastly form, and because the apple hasn't fallen far from the tree, not even his own father can stand the sight of him. Kyle's banished to a luxurious condo where he'll spend his days with only a Jamaican maid (LisaGay Hamilton) and a blind teacher (Neil Patrick Harris) for company. He's free to come and go as he pleases, but he's too ashamed of his looks to venture outside except for at night while wearing a hoodie. Although he's sticking to the shadows, there is one girl from his Manhattan high school who proves to be endlessly fascinating and worth taking the risk of being seen to watch. Lindy (Vanessa Hudgens of High School Musical fame) is a cutie who, while he was still in his hunky form, Kyle seemed to have made a connection with on his last night in his old form. Why this seemingly intelligent, normal girl would ever find anything interesting about this obnoxious jerk isn't explained.
The story needs Lindy to be forced into staying at Kyle's out-of-the-way hideout so we are forced to endure the most ridiculous of set-ups that's so ludicrous it needs to be seen to be believed (not that I'm suggesting you pay to see this film). With Lindy unhappily confined to his house (by the way, Kyle's actually going by Hunter now in order to keep his curse a secret), it's up to Kyle to woo the beauty and break his curse. He's a real fish out of water as he's never had to depend on his personality to win over a woman before, so his maid and teacher will need to do some serious mentoring in order to make Hunter worthy of a girl as sweet and kind as Lindy.
Vanessa Hudgens is a cutie which is all that is demanded of her, Alex Pettyfer shows more range here than in I Am Number Four, Peter Krause (Kyle's dad) is wasted, and LisaGay Hamilton is, despite being saddled with a Jamaican accent, decent as the patient maid who tries to bring out the good in Kyle. But the shining bright spot in Beastly is Neil Patrick Harris. Whenever NPH is around, Beastly becomes a lot more tolerable. Harris makes the most out of poor material, and also brings out the best in Pettyfer. Their scenes make it easier to understand the 20 year old Brit's sudden rise in popularity, although his off-screen behavior may have squelched his chances at capitalizing on the recent buzz.
The Bottom Line
Beastly's more of a mess than its lead character's face. Granted, this is a romantic fantasy for teens so it's okay to push the limits of believability a little. But Beastly's writer/director Daniel Barnz (Phoebe in Wonderland) goes beyond the absurd. There's nothing real here to latch onto, no character who comes across as the slightest bit authentic. Not even Lindy, the film's 'normal' girl, is safe from the outrageousness of the story.
The fact Beastly is entirely predictable isn't what does this teen fantasy in. Let's face it, if you know anything about Beauty and the Beast, you know everything about Beastly. No, it's the fact this version of the classic tale is lifeless and bland that makes Beastly such a disaster. Disney's animated film featured characters that were more alive and human than this live-action film.
Beastly was directed by Daniel Barnz and is rated PG-13 for language including crude comments, brief violence and some thematic material.
Theatrical Release: March 4, 2011