[Screen It]

(2011) (Alex Pettyfer, Vanessa Hudgens) (PG-13)

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Drama: A once handsome teen has one year to get a girl to love him for who he is or else a witch's curse, that's disfigured his looks and ruined his popularity, will remain perpetual.
Kyle Kingson (ALEX PETTYFER) is the most popular, handsome and egotistical student at his private high school in Manhattan, and he lets everyone know it. That's become more evident now that he's running for class president and putting down anyone he deems beneath him -- such as old-school romantic Lindy Taylor (VANESSA HUDGENS) -- or unattractive, which is how he views Kendra (MARY-KATE OLSEN). Unfortunately for him, the latter turns out to be a witch who puts a curse on him.

As a result, his face and other skin are horribly disfigured, with boils, raised veins, gashes, a bald top and more replacing his flawless looks and model-worthy hair. The curse is reversible, but only if Kyle can get someone to love him for who he truly is, and how he looks now in this new physical state, all within a year. His famous and rich father, Rob (PETER KRAUSE), from whom Kyle inherited a disdain for ordinary and less attractive people, can't have him around anymore and thus sets him up in his own place where he'll live mostly in seclusion. That is, except for their housekeeper, Zola (LISAGAY HAMILTON), and the blind tutor, Will (NEIL PATRICK HARRIS), hired to educate the teen, both of whom also live in the house.

Wearing a hood whenever he goes out, Kyle realizes he's drawn to Lindy, but never makes his presence known until he saves her and drug-addict father from a drug dealer. With Lindy now needing a place to stay for her protection, Kyle arranges for that to be at his place, but he does so under a different name and initially doesn't let her see him.

And she's unhappy with this turn of events, although she initially warms to her new host that she doesn't realize is really her former classmate. With time running out, Kyle does want he can to make Lindy fall for and hopefully state that she loves him, lest the curse remain in place forever.

OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
While some people associate the classic "Beauty and the Beast" tale with kids (thanks to Disney's superlative animated musical from 1991), others think of older to middle-aged women watching the weekly travails of Linda Hamilton and Ron Perlman in the TV broadcast version that aired on CBS from 1987 to 1990. But if you really think about it, the real audience for the tale should be teenagers.

I'm not referring to the more contemporary, cross-breed love story populated of late by the "Twilight" novels and movies. Instead, the idea is that teenagers, despite their superficial bravado, are inherently a very insecure bunch. That's especially true when it comes to their looks. And of all ages to have changes to that occur, it would have to be the teen ones, wouldn't it?

Beyond bad haircuts, singular or repeated fashion faux pas, and the normal physiological facial transformations that naturally take place during the segue from child to adult, there's that little problem known as pimples. They pop up as volcanic protuberances seemingly ready to blow at any moment or as an army of red bumps, splotches and such, usually when the sufferer is trying to get a date or land a boyfriend of girlfriend. As a result, they often feel hideous and insecure or lash out at others when not retreating into seclusion.

Sound like a certain beast we know? That theme and the familiar storyline run through "Beastly," the latest adaptation of the centuries old tale. This time, however, rather than the main character having been transformed into something akin to the Wolfman, it involves a handsome, vain and egotistical teen who ends up looking like a piece of modern art, with an eclectic assortment of face and other skin abnormalities (gashes, raised markings, veins and tendrils and such). As a result, he literally and metaphorically can't show his face back at school.

The young actor who plays that part -- and apparently endured hours of daily makeup -- is Alex Pettyfer, the inexplicably busy model turned thespian who so far has bombed in "Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker" back in 2006 and made less than a stellar splash in the recently released "I Am Number Four."

The fate of this third attempt at cinematic stardom remains to be seen, but if the shrieks of young girls at the sight of him (shirtless and working out right from the get-go, and then many subsequent times sans upper attire) at our press screening were any indication, he might just have a slightly older Bieberesque thing working for him.

As might the film that's obviously targeted at that same tween and younger female teen audience demographic. As directed by Daniel Barnz from his own screenplay adaptation of Alex Flinn's novel of the same name, the pic operates as a very modern update of the old and quite familiar story. Pettyfer plays a handsome, well-to-do and egotistically vain high school student who ends up rubbing a teen sorceress the wrong way (Holy Growing Pains, it's Mary-Kate Olsen doing a subdued but still over-the-top, witchy-witchy woman thing).

Like her predecessors, she evokes the old time-based curse, making him hideous to others and himself, with the irony being that he must now find someone to express their romantic love for the true him. Being a fairy tale, no one seems particularly concerned about or even interested in his sudden and seemingly inexplicable facial malady, although his father (Peter Krause) sends the teen off into "seclusion" (a swanky apartment somewhere presumably still in Manhattan). There, several in-house "servants" (Lisa Gay Hamilton, and a fun and funny Neil Patrick Harris playing a blind tutor) take care of his needs, all of which means we know that his potential future love (and rescuer from his curse) has to show up soon.

She arrives in the form of Vanessa Hudgens (no stranger to high school life, what with all of those musicals), and thanks to a fairly contrived bit of storytelling, she ends up staying with the "beast" although she doesn't recognize him from their earlier days back in school. She isn't happy at first, but eventually warms to him, and he eventually sees the error of his previous ways. Will their friendship and budding romantic potential be ruined when she discovers who he really is? Will they suddenly break into song and dance? Will a sullen vampire come between them? Find out next week, same Belle time, same Belle channel.

No, there aren't many surprises here, although the way in which Barnz adapts the very familiar story does manage to hold one's interest to a slight degree. Sadly, Pettyfer does not, although at least he's better with the lighter romantic comedy type material than with the heavy stuff where he needs to emote and do so convincingly, but really doesn't. Granted, those tween and early teen girls will likely think he's the cat's meow and thus not care, but more discerning viewers won't be terribly impressed by his work here, meaning he's batting a perfect 0 for 3 so far in terms of his big screen work. Hudgens doesn't fair much better, relegated to doing not much more trying to appear cute.

Not quite the train wreck I thought it would be (or how the early scenes make it appear it will play out) but still far from good, at least the one thing that can be said about "Beastly" is that it will carve out another targeted demographic for this ages-old tale. Next up, the toddler and AARP versions. This one rates as a 3.5 out of 10.

Reviewed February 28, 2011 / Posted March 4, 2011

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