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Movie review: 'Beastly'

Daniel Barnz directs this modern twist on the 'Beauty and the Beast' tale starring Alex Pettyfer and Vanessa Hudgens, along with Mary-Kate Olsen, Neil Patrick Harris and Peter Krause.

March 04, 2011|By Mark Olsen, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • Alex Pettyfer plays the Beast and Vanessa Hudgens is Lindy in the movie "Beastly."
Alex Pettyfer plays the Beast and Vanessa Hudgens is Lindy in the movie "Beastly." (Takashi Seida, CBS Films )

Certainly better than the word "passable" might imply, "Beastly" is a sly and pleasant-enough young-adult programmer that is more likeable than not.

Adapted and directed by Daniel Barnz, who previously made the Sundance title "Phoebe in Wonderland," the film centers on a brash, arrogant high school pretty boy (Alex Pettyfer) whose internal ugliness becomes externalized when he runs afoul of a spell-casting girl dabbling in witchcraft.

She gives him one year to find someone to love him or he will remain in this altered state forever. His best shot turns out to be a shy loner (Vanessa Hudgens) to whom he had previously paid little attention.

Based on the novel by Alex Flinn, "Beastly" is of course a modern telling of the classic "Beauty and the Beast" tale. Yet Barnz actually does make the film modern, subtly capturing the ways we now communicate, where deleting a text message can have an odd finality, and offhanded social media updates can, depending on context, take on significance.

As well, the casting of the film has a dry, subtle wit, with Mary-Kate Olsen as the witchy girl with ever-changing hair and high-fashion heels, Neil Patrick Harris as a sassy blind tutor and even Peter Krause as the boy's father, a vain, distant newscaster who tells his son by way of life advice, "People like people who look good."

Let's leave aside that even if a girl who looked like Vanessa Hudgens were a bashful, bookish outcast, she'd still be beset upon by hip nerds looking to impress her with poetry they learned from Google before the Beast comes along. Hudgens has an imminently watchable screen presence, somehow engaging, but reluctantly so; she manages to be emotive and slightly wooden at the same time.

The film, with its contemporary twist on gothic themes, seems designed to appeal to the "Twilight" crowd, except that they have proven a most fickle group to reach. In her own way, Hudgens is at the same career impasse as the "Twilight" kids as she gamely struggles to move beyond being that girl from "High School Musical." It is a genuine compliment to her that at no point in "Beastly" does she seem about to burst into either song or dance.

The idea of transformation, that people can change and learn from their mistakes, growing to be better, makes "Beastly" not just sweetly romantic but also quietly hopeful.

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