By Gary Murray

Starring Vanessa Hudgens, Alex Pettyfer and Mary-Kate Olsen

Written and directed by Daniel Barnz

Running time 95 min

MPAA Rating PG-13

Selig Film Rating: Cable

The story of Beauty and the Beast has been made and re-made since the earliest days of cinema. Arguably the most successful version was the Disney animated film of a few year back. It was nominated for the Oscar and is universally considered a modern day classic film. The latest to take on the tale is Beastly.

The story is set in modern day Manhattan, New York with a young man named Kyle (Alex Pettyfer) who is all style over substance, mean to everyone who is not beautiful. He decides to run for persistent of the eco-club at the school just so it will look good on his resume.

His only competition is Lindy (Vanessa Hudgens) a shy mousy girl with a giant, giving heart. When Kyle wins the election, he attracts the notice of the witchy Goth chick Kendra (Mary-Kate Olsen) who sees through the facade. At a dance, she puts a curse on the young man, turning him into a horrible freak of nature, full of tattoos, scars and boils. She tells him that if he cannot find a woman to love him within the year, he will stay that way forever.

Kyle's dad, after seeing doctor after doctor about his son, decides that Kyle needs to live on his own in Brooklyn. Dad is a TV lead anchor who also has the idea that beautiful people are the rulers of the planet. Dad does send the Jamaican housekeeper to keep Kyle company and hires a blind tutor (Neil Patrick Harris) to keep the young man up on his school work.

Kyle watches Lindy from her bedroom in a bad part of town. Through his eyes, we see Lindy as a caring young woman who looks out for both the homeless in her neighborhood and her junkie father. When her Dad's drug deal goes very bad, Lindy must be hidden from the revenge seeking dealers. Dad agrees to put Lindy in Kyle's broken down home.

Once she is there, Kyle begins the slow process of winning her heart, even though she does not recognize him from her school. As they bond, Kyle's scars begin to change, getting worse as the days race toward the end of his destiny. Anyone who has seen a romance knows just exactly the last act of Beastly will leave the audience.

Vanessa Hudgens and she does the most with what she has to work with. The former High School Musical star is still playing the student, but this one has a little bit more heft. Her character is thoroughly charming, the kind of girl that every young man hopes to fall in love with. She isn't given much to do in Beastly, just look good and smile, both of she does with perfect grace.

Alex Pettyfer was recently seen in I am Number Four. Here as Kyle he is much of the same character, a good looking guy in a fantasy role. He does show a greater degree of acting prowess in Beastly. Although he has to play with the burden of scars and ink, he still finds a humanity with Kyle. It is his story of discovery that drives the plot.

I was delighted to see how charming Neil Patrick Harris came across. The blind tutor is a cliche role but he does give a fresh take on it. He is just charming with the small part,

The biggest surprise is Mary-Kate Olson as Kendra the witch. This former child star takes on a character role and delivers a very strong performance. She is mysterious and mystic, throwing creepy lines at the lead. When she utters "Best embrace the suck." it comes across as spooky. The young actress may actually have a long career playing different characters and not trying to do a star turn.

The make-up and tattoos on Alex are realistic. He is repulsive yet still fascinating to watch. Through the years, I have seen people who are more tattooed than our Kyle and individuals who have been more maimed. To quote Lindy "I've seen worse."

The problem with Beastly is the source material. In every version of Beauty and the Beast, there has never been much of a story. It is of two trapped individuals together in a lonely place. The reason the Disney version worked so well was the music, the songs propelled the lagging plot. Unrequited love and hope of falling together only goes so far in the real world. The lack of strong story hurts the film.

This Beastly film is targeted toward the Twilight fans and it does work on that level. The teen audience seemed to take in the moody monster with loving grace and rooted for the 'girl next door' to get her man. It is a bit too slow with the barest of a plot but with enough eye candy for the young women who will frequent the theater to see it.




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