It's a pity he's merely pretty
By Sandie Angulo Chen
Friday, March 4, 2011
Halfway through "Beastly," a modern-day young adult take on "Beauty and the Beast," Vanessa Hudgens's character, Lindy, confesses she's a "substance over style" kind of girl. Too bad for her. By casting the gorgeous Alex Pettyfer as her leading man, Hollywood
has proved that it definitely prefers his beauty over anyone else's talent.
Pettyfer, a 20-year-old former model, arrives from England as the Next Hot Thing, particularly when it comes to young adult novel adaptations such as "Beastly," "I Am Number Four" and several of his upcoming movies (he's reportedly in talks to play the lead in no less than three major YA films, including "The Mortal Instruments" and "The Last Apprentice" series). On the surface, it's easy to see why. Pettyfer's bedroom eyes, self-assured smirk and symmetrical abs compete to distract viewers from his lack of personality and deficits as an actor.
"Beastly," however, is a love story, not an Abercrombie spread. And once you discount Pettyfer's considerable physical charms (which are, admittedly "catnip to sappy girls," to quote Lindy), he's missing the necessary depth to make this tale as old as time work.
Audiences might forgive Pettyfer's unremarkable performance in "I Am Number Four" because he pulled off his action sequences and made out credibly with his beautiful co-star. The explosions and special effects of "Number Four" masked Pettyfer's limited acting skills and inability to emote anything more complicated than smug satisfaction, but those shortcomings are unavoidable
when he tries to court Hudgens on screen.
The movie opens with Kyle (Pettyfer) running for Green Club president at his Manhattan private school on the platform that he's a rich, popular, good-looking guy who needs an extracurricular for his college applications. "Don't embrace the suck," he encourages his docile followers (the "suck" being anyone who's not attractive). But after he publicly humiliates Kendra (Mary-Kate Olsen), the school's resident Goth outcast, she reveals herself as a witch and turns him into a "Beast" - but not the hunchbacked furball portrayed by Disney or Ron Perlman, but a heavily pierced, scarred and tattooed "freak." Perhaps the producers thought too much fur would obscure the abs.
Kendra's curse gives Kyle one year to find someone who will tell him "I love you." But after seven months of unsuccessful medical consultations and hibernation in a Brooklyn brownstone, Kyle, who has renamed himself Hunter, has begun to accept that he'll end up looking like a sideshow act forever, with only Caribbean housekeeper Zola (Lisa Gay Hamilton) and blind tutor Will (Neil Patrick Harris) for company.
Enter Lindy, propelled into Hunter's life by a plot device so preposterous you'll wonder if anyone bothered to check whether it made any sense. A shy scholarship student from a troubled home, Lind y had spoken to the old Kyle exactly once. But with his time running out, Hunter believes she's earnest enough to give him one last shot at love.
Hudgens, at least, knows how to look like she's falling in love. She keeps her doe eyes bright and colors her cheeks with a blush of excitement. Not that Hunter does anything to truly deserve her consideration. At least in author Alex Flinn's source novel, Kyle's transformation helps him educate himself and realize what an unbelievable jerk he used to be, but in the movie this is summed up by a couple of lines in which he wishes that Zola could see her kids in Jamaica and that Will could see, period.
Anyone who has witnessed Hudgens's adorable first-love chemistry with Zac Efron in the three "High School Musicals" will probably wish for even Efron to replace the uncharismatic Pettyfer. And if not fellow pretty-boy Efron, who can, you know, act, then anyone with the ability to properly woo a girl with vulnerability and passion, instead of merely a toothy grin.
Harris's Will adds some much-welcome comic relief to this otherwise disappointing romance. But even Will's witty one-liners and nuggets of blind wisdom aren't enough to save this modern fairy tale from being ultimately a manipulative device to get young girls to swoon and sigh and applaud on cue when the eventual first kiss arrives.
Getting teens to look past the superficial may be a noble goal, but when they're staring at the pretty but talentless Pettyfer, it's a hard lesson to take seriously.
Contains some language, sensuality, violence and references to drug abuse.