There’s nothing like a slew of sappy teen melodramas to start the year off on a club foot. First “I Am Number Four” and now this? Alex Pettyfer needs a better agent, lest he become a Pattinson protégé.


CBS Films
At Quality 16 and Rave

At least “Number Four” had pretty explosions, morphing dogs and alien torture devices to punctuate the boring story and one-dimensional characters with a faint glimmer of potential. And self-awareness alone is enough to make trash cinema tolerable — at least Michael Bay has no problem admitting his movies are crap. Read the Reuters report about his deprecating “Transformers 2” commentary if you need proof.

“Beastly,” on the other hand, is distinctively bad and doesn’t know it.

The first thing that’s likely to bother you is how the “Beauty and the Beast” premise just doesn’t fit a contemporary setting. Handsome rich kid Kyle Kingson humiliates a teenage witch (Mary-Kate Olsen, “New York Minute”), so she curses him with a bad case of the uglies, covering him with more unsightly tattoos than the cast of Dr. Drew’s “Sober House.” Now Kyle needs to find a woman to love him within a year, or he’ll bear the curse forever.

After spending a year as a hermit in a lonely NYC apartment, he begins to follow a former high school classmate named Lindy (Vanessa Hudgens, “High School Musical 3”). One bad drug deal and a few death threats later, Lindy is living under Kyle’s protection. Love ensues.

While we’re taking blasphemous liberties with the settings and storylines of the classics, why not have the Sharks and Jets duke it out in a dance-off in Cloud City? Lando Calrissian can be one of the judges. Sarcasm aside, a remake should choose its setting and characters carefully to glean something new from a familiar story. All you’ll glean from “Beastly” is its inherent absurdity.

Worse yet, the characters have flat personalities and speak with the brashness of preadolescents who’ve just learned their first dirty word. A poignant conversation about life and love devolves into a joke about “a baboon scratching his ass.” Neil Patrick Harris’s role as Kyle’s blind tutor reduces the adversity of blindness to an offensive punch line. Someone should’ve told him to go back to “How I Met Your Mother” where he belongs.

But these problems pale in light of a glaring fairytale hypocrisy the likes of which you’ve never seen. “Beastly” isn’t just poorly made, it’s outright immoral. Yes, immorality may feel like a foreign concept in a review of a modern retelling of a Disney film (emphasis on “modern,” especially if you’ve seen “Song of the South”), but it’s true. For example, when Kyle tries to woo his lovely housemate with lavish gifts, she reacts with disgust. His housekeeper and tutor both tell him that a woman of her caliber won’t be bought. So what’s Kyle’s natural solution to this problem? Why, he takes her to his father’s multimillion dollar beach house, of course!

And to honor an age-old story that conveys the themes of benevolence and compassion, how does the story resolve the rift between Kyle and his absentee father? Sic Sabrina-the-evil-teenage-witch on him for a bit of comeuppance at the very end! That’s right folks, vengeance is O.K., so long as it’s wrought by the protagonist.

Sure, “Beastly” may earn a bit of praise for being carefree and nostalgic, but too often “carefree” borders the “lackadaisical.” Even the timeless lesson of love over vanity takes a dreadful beating when it’s articulated by Pettyfer. If you ever suspect Kyle’s ridiculously colloquial speech and idiotic jokes are an accurate reflection of the American teen, save yourself the misery of child-rearing.

Granted, you’ll probably crack a smile by the time the movie’s through. But good luck figuring out whether you’re pleased with the fairytale ending or relieved that the feature-length torture is finally over.

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