Movie Review


'Twilight' knockoff is just way off: 'Beastly' a fantasy that fizzles out

Vanessa Hudgens plays Lindy, a young woman who’s been given to Alex Pettyfer’s Hunter. Vanessa Hudgens plays Lindy, a young woman who’s been given to Alex Pettyfer’s Hunter. (Takashi Seida/CBS Films)
By Wesley Morris
Globe Staff / March 4, 2011

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You’re young. You’ve got the world ahead of you. You once were in a bunch of “High School Musicals.’’ In “Beastly,’’ which opens today, you’ve saved all your pennies for a class trip to Machu Picchu. But your father’s an addict, who’s shot a thug whose brother has threatened to kill little innocent you. Possibly because he’s still strung out, your old man leases you to the hooded stranger who witnessed the shooting and more or less blackmails him into making you his. Not that your father’s situation has ever troubled you. Most nights you can be found bopping around a New York that always looks like Canada, toting a concession-stand-appropriate box of Jujyfruits. The characterization couldn’t be more flagrant if the soundtrack creaked out an oldie by a certain ancient pop quintet: You’re a candy girl.

In any case, let’s talk about your predicament. The handsome young man to whom you’ve been pimped — I mean, handed — is also a filthy rich, Aryan-looking fellow. He once ruled your prep school with the sort of borderline-eugenic iron fist that, historically, has led to wars and shopping-mall riots. But after messing with the wrong high-fashion witch, he’s turned into a couture Caliban — pale skin, scars with metallic trim, sylvan tattoos. Your classmates think he’s chicly, Sheenly gone to rehab. Really, he’s been given a year to find someone compassionate enough to say to him the spell-breaking words, “I love you.’’

That someone is, of course, you. Which, of course, is the problem. This entire mess has cost you your trip, your education, your future, and your father. But after Caliban (he wants to be called “Hunter’’) leaves boxes of you-know-whats at the door of your quarters in his enormous pied-a-terre, which he shares with his badly accented Jamaican maid and blind tutor, your giggling, nail biting, and lower-lip nibbling only intensify. By the time you read Frank O’Hara together in the greenhouse he’s built you then break into someplace called the Carroll Gardens Zoo, you’re officially his.

I know, I know. You’re thinking that if Bella can have Edward why can’t you have this cheaper, fatless knockoff? It’s possible you need a break from the dirty mind of “Twilight.’’ But in favor of a dollar-store “Beauty and the Beast’’ with no mind at all? Bella would remind you that her life is no After School Special about inner prettiness. It’s a soap opera about being hilariously unsexed. (In “Twilight,’’ if they do it, somebody might die. What’s your excuse?)

The fantasy “Beastly’’ peddles isn’t dissimilar. A cute boy needs you, and you want to help him so much you can’t notice he’s just a pale bike-messenger version of the tan rich guy. It’s his ego that needs you, not him. That must be why he doesn’t seem to mind that you have one facial expression and that it’s hidden by your bangs. You don’t smell the faint racism, certain chauvinism, rampant illogic, or the fact that he’s banking on a girl being as simple and predictable as it turns out you are. You smell only candy that actually smells like nothing.

Wesley Morris can be reached at or followed on Twitter: @wesley_morris.

BEASTLY Written and directed by: Daniel Barnz, adapted from the novel by Alex Flinn

Starring: Vanessa Hudgens, Alex Pettyfer, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Peter Krause, Neil Patrick Harris, and Mary-Kate Olsen

At: Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs

Running time: 97 minutes

Rated: PG-13 (deadly gunplay, deadlier cuteness)

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