Adapting the classic tale of Beauty and the Beast as a modern-day teen romance is a good idea in principle. Sadly, Beastly falls short in its execution.
Kyle (Alex Pettyfer) is a hunky, popular high-school student whose news anchor father (Peter Krause) has taught him the all-importance of physical beauty in attaining success. Cocky and mean-spirited, though inwardly insecure, Kyle invites class Goth Kendra (Mary-Kate Olsen) to a party as his date and then publicly belittles her when she shows up. Kendra turns out to be a witch and transforms Kyle into a monster, albeit with bizarre facial scars and tattoos instead of fur and fangs. He has one year to get someone to tell him "I love you," or he stays a monster for life.
Shut away in a new apartment by his father, with no one but a housekeeper (Lisa Gay Hamilton) and a blind tutor (Neil Patrick Harris) to keep him company, Kyle wanders out at night and becomes fascinated with old classmate Lindy (Vanessa Hudgens). He saves her life when she and her father (Roc LaFortune) get into a fight with her father's drug dealer, who threatens to return and kill Lindy. Kyle, calling himself Hunter to a girl who doesn't recognize him, convinces Lindy's father to let her stay at his apartment until the drug dealer is no longer a threat.
The ensuing awkward courtship is unfortunately accompanied by even more awkward staging in a paint-by-numbers script. It trips over stilted dialogue when it isn't stealing lines from Disney's Beauty and the Beast. Vanessa Hudgens does an admirable job with the material, but Pettyfer's performance is almost as shallow as his character.
What saves the film (rated PG-13 for language, brief violence, and some thematic material) is its almost infectious earnestness in conveying its tale: that true worth comes from within, that chivalry and romance are far more worthwhile pursuits than today's hook-up culture, that true love conquers all.
-Michael Leaser is editor of FilmGrace and an associate of The Clapham Group