Alex Flinn's young adult novel comes to the screen with its pleasures intact.
In the movies, love means never having to say you’re sorry. But in Beastly, pretty boy Kyle Kingsbury (Alex Pettyfer) had better find a way to say he’s sorry for being a vainglorious cad or his love affair — primarily with his mirror — will be over faster than audiences can say, “Haven’t we seen this story before?”
Of course, we have. Beastly, adapted from the young adult novel by Palmetto Bay’s Alex Flinn, is an update of Beauty and the Beast. The main twist is that Flinn tells the story from the point of view of the Beast and placed the characters in high school where, as everyone knows, looks matter more than calculus.
Kyle is hot, smart and rich and delights in mocking schoolmates. When he eyes Kendra, the school witch (Full House’s Mary Kate-Olsen), he humiliates her at a school function. Kendra retaliates by casting a spell that transforms him into a deformed freak but gives him one way out: “You have a year to find someone to love you or stay like this forever — as aggressively unattractive inside as you are outside.”
Tall order. Screenwriter/director Daniel Barnz wisely tweaks Flinn’s story for the screen by condensing the action to one year. He also streamlines — to good effect — the complex back stories of the secondary characters and alters the appearance of the Beast from the now overly familiar werewolf to a more relatable version in which Pettyfer loses his golden locks and suffers disfigurement via scars and ever-morphing tattoos. Montreal’s historic downtown, where Beastly was filmed, stands in as a convincing New York.
Of course, someone lovely has to enter the equation and find her way into the castle, er, New York brownstone, and in Beastly that role falls to Lindy (Vanessa Hudgens). The callow High School Musical actress, with her dreamy dark hair and eyes, has become a beautiful young woman.
Not surprisingly, Kyle’s smitten. “Pretty gruesome, huh?” Kyle tells her when he finally works up the nerve to reveal himself.
“I’ve seen worse,” Lindy replies as emo music swells on the soundtrack.
Beastly, for all its potential pitfalls, works better than it has any right to. Credit Barnz, who keeps his young characters contemporary in a world of text messaging and status updates and yet also gives them depth.
Pettyfer has to make Kyle loathsome when he’s beautiful and soon have audiences feel for his character when all seems hopeless. The 20-year-old Brit, who also stars in the teen alien adventure I Am Number Four, displays the requisite range. Hudgens has grown into a likable, expressive actress. Perhaps most impressive, both are able to survive scenes with the hilarious Neil Patrick Harris, who plays a blind tutor. If you loved Harris in his recent Emmy-winning guest spot on Glee, he’s just as amusing in Beastly.
Judging by an eager preview audience’s hearty reactions in all the right places, Barnz’ briskly-paced, engaging Beastly could transform itself into the fledgling studio’s first real hit — Hollywood’s idea of a real fairy tale ending.
Cast: Alex Pettyfer, Vanessa Hudgens, Neil Patrick Harris, Mary-Kate Olsen, Peter Krause, Lisa Gay Hamilton.
Writer-director: Daniel Barnz. Based on the novel by Alex Flinn.
Producer: Susan Cartsonis, Roz Weisberg, Michael Flynn.
A CBS Films release. Running time: 95 minutes. Vulgar language. Opens Friday March 4 at area theaters.