Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB
USA, 2011. CBS Films, Storefront Films. Screenplay by Daniel Barnz, based on the novel by Alex Flinn. Cinematography by Mandy Walker. Produced by Susan Cartsonis. Music by Marcelo Zarvos. Production Design by Rusty Smith. Costume Design by Suttirat Anne Larlarb. Film Editing by Thomas J. Nordberg.
Modern-day reworking of Beauty and the Beast aimed at the teen set, this romantic fantasy would be appreciable if it weren’t for the bizarre emphasis on sincerity and some very bad acting by its leads. Alex Pettyfer plays an obnoxious rich kid at a fancy Manhattan prep school who makes no bones about the fact that he sees physical beauty as a sign of superiority. He plays with fire when he goes out of his way to insult the school’s chief misfit (Mary-Kate Olsen), and gets more than he bargained for when she turns out to be a real witch capable of putting a real curse on him (so why is she in high school? Surely she doesn’t need the diploma for her career goals).
Transformed from his blond and buff self into something indescribable, his face covered in tattoos, some very upsetting papercuts and a few boils (but, to be fair, still pretty buff), Pettyfer tries to tell the witch that he has learned his lesson but she tells him that the curse stands as is: he must find someone who loves him despite his appearance by the end of the year (as if there is no young woman in New York who hasn’t ruined herself over what appears to be an EDM disc jockey) or he will look like this forever.
Luckily, the house across the river in which his father (a horrendously one-note Peter Krause) exiles him also becomes the haven for a young woman from his school (Vanessa Hudgens) who needs a place to hide after her junkie father gets into some life-threatening trouble. From there the film becomes a ridiculous love story that, even when you embrace its elements of witches and magical tattoos (not to mention a suspiciously wealthy anchorman), is hard to swallow because director Daniel Barnz keeps trying to get gritty realness out of a couple who have zero chemistry and dialogue that is consistently clunky.
The added elements of Neil Patrick Harris, as the blind tutor who never teaches, and the always wonderful LisaGay Hamilton, sporting a Jamaican accent as Pettyfer’s put-upon maid, represent more unnecessary complications that provide little actual wisdom or warmth to the operation.