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(2001) (Susan Lynch, Rachel Weisz) (R)

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Suspense: After a woman kills another woman's abusive boyfriend, she and that girlfriend then set out to fake the dead man's kidnapping, hoping their ruse will net them a handsome ransom.
Dorothy (SUSAN LYNCH) and Petula (RACHEL WEISZ) are two women with bad taste in men. Dorothy's boyfriend, Tony (IAIN GLEN), often threatens to kill her, while Petula's boyfriend, Brian McMinn (TOM MANNION), turns such attitudes into physical behavior. It's during one such incidence that Dorothy, who's never met Petula, saves her from another beating by hitting Brian on the head with a large lead pipe.

Although the blow isn't initially fatal, Brian does end up dead, throwing the two women into an unexpected and sudden partnership, with Dorothy worrying that she'll go to prison for saving another woman's life. Accordingly, they don't tell the authorities and move the body out onto the balcony while trying to figure out what to do. That decision is forced upon them when Brian's older and wealthy brother, Ronnie (MAURICE ROEVES), who also happens to be Petula's boss, hires detective George Hepburn (ALEX NORTON) to track down his now missing brother.

With the inspector detective beginning his investigation, Dorothy suddenly decides that the women should fake Brian's kidnapping, figuring they can collect a hefty ransom, even if he's already dead. As the two women begin their ruse and try to bring it through to completion, they must contend with Tony, Ronnie and Hepburn as all three men either uncover the plan or become suspicious of the women's behavior.

OUR TAKE: 2 out of 10
Although cinematic thrillers can come in all forms, shapes and sizes, one of the more entertaining varieties is the "Oh what a tangled web we weave when we first plan to deceive" story. They're the sort of film where characters purposefully attempt to deceive others - be it from their initial plan or their need to cover up a wrongdoing or discovery - and must then deal with various complications that naturally arise.

While filled with all sorts of potential, these types of films are often difficult to pull off, especially when some degree of comedy (blackened or not) or attempted humor is thrown into the mix. One need only think of "Very Bad Things" as an example of how horrendously bad such efforts can be if mishandled and/or poorly constructed. On the other hand, some of the straight dramatic efforts such as "A Simple Plan" and "Blood Simple" show how well the genre can work if done just right.

While not as abysmal or painful to watch as the first example, but clearly not as good as either of the latter two, the comedic thriller "Beautiful Creatures" is yet another case study of how tough it is to pull off one of these pictures and make it both successful on a critical level, and entertaining enough for one's general viewing pleasure.

Taking something of a "Thelma and Louise" angle, the story deals with two women who are involved with the wrong type of men. The reason for that is never explained beyond it being a plot contrivance, but the women get themselves into trouble when one clocks the other's abusive boyfriend over the head with a pipe, eventually leading to his obligatory demise.

On the spur of the moment and while her newfound "partner" is sweating bullets while being questioned by a detective, one woman decides to come up with a fake kidnapping for ransom plan. As her dog has already chewed off a few of the deceased's fingers, this comes in handy as evidence for the plan. Of course, no one seems to care that the detached fingers would have dog bit marks and associated slobber on them, but that's probably because the detective is - are you ready for the big surprise - really a crooked cop who decides to get in on the action and double the ransom demands for his own cut.

Beyond the fact that we've seen this sort of development countless times before, the "twist" begins to strain credibility more than just a bit, which is why I suppose the comedic angle was then put into play. Comedies or comedic films can usually get away with stretching reality and making ludicrous developments more acceptable then in straight dramas. Yet, the "comedy" here is practically nonexistent - even in a blackened manner - and isn't particularly funny or effective.

The suspense or "Oh no, they're gonna get caught" element doesn't work that well either, mainly because the story - written by Simon Donald ("My Life So Far") and directed by Bill Eagles (making his feature film debut) - isn't structured properly to elicit such a reaction.

As was the case in "Thelma and Louise," the defense of one woman leads to an accidental death, and the women then turn into criminals, knowing the police aren't likely to believe their accounting of the turn of events. Whereas that film had realistic characters who go on the run and rob various establishments to fund their way to Mexico, however, this one features forced cartoonish ones who are decidedly less than three-dimensional and come up with a criminal idea that kind of which usually only shows up in the movies.

Of course, there are complications in the form of various men who might stumble across or figure out their ruse, but neither those characters nor the obstacles they present are particularly noteworthy, intriguing or effective. Part of that's due to the fact that the men - just like in "Thelma and Louise" - are one-dimensional characters, either flatly villainous or predictable. The majority of that problem, however, stems from the fact that the women's plan doesn't seem or feel particularly well conceived, and that there aren't enough such credible or imaginative complications regarding it to engage the viewer's interest.

It also doesn't help that we don't particularly care about the two women who don't elicit much of a response, one way or the other, from viewers. As a result, we don't really worry about the characters' ruse being discovered and/or them being in harm's way. Nor are they constructed in such a way that we conversely root for them to be discovered or caught.

Instead, we wonder - by default and retention of our consciousness - how long this fiasco will continue. At less than ninety minutes - including end credits - it thankfully doesn't go on forever, and I've experienced far greater wastes of time and celluloid in a darkened theater than this film manages to do. Few, however, will probably think they got their time or money's worth out of this effort.

As far as the performances are concerned, Rachel Weisz ("Enemy at the Gates," "The Mummy") and Susan Lynch ("Waking Ned Devine") look nice - perhaps explaining the title - but simply can't do anything with their poorly developed characters. The various male performers, including Alex Norton ("Little Voice," "Braveheart"), Iain Glen ("Mountains of the Moon," the upcoming "Tomb Raider") and Maurice Roeves ("Last of the Mohicans," "Hidden Agenda") don't fare any better, with their characters presumably being drawn as such bad villains that we're not supposed to mind what happens to them.

Overall, the film simply don't work as a "Thelma and Louise" rip-off/wannabe, a whimsical caper or a deceit-based, black comedy. While there's some potential present in the underlying premise - albeit limited and unoriginal - the execution of it is completely off, mostly because what's present is too lame, less than shocking and ultimately uneventful. Marking yet another failed entry in this genre, "Beautiful Creatures" rates as just a 2 out of 10.

Reviewed March 23, 2001 / Posted April 20, 2001

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