As a parody of the most hackneyed components of teen fantasy films based on popular novels, “Beautiful Creatures” largely succeeds.
There’s a chaste romance, cartoonish villains, cheesy special effects, wooden performances, deceased parents, ancient curses and needlessly complex mythology. There’s even a token nod to a hidden fantasy world that’s coexisted with our own for hundreds of years. Truly revolutionary.
Despite evidence to the contrary, “Beautiful Creatures” was not crafted as a parody of said teen films. It is intended as a straight example of the genre. And that’s where “Beautiful Creatures,” which features precisely zero beautiful creatures, falls wildly short.
The film is based on a popular novel of the same name by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. Fans of the source material might be pleased with the film adaptation, which was written for the screen and directed by Richard LaGravanese (“Freedom Writers,” “P.S. I Love You”).
The story is set in the backward, hick town of Gatlin, S.C. Everyone speaks in comically over-the-top accents, eats grits and combats prejudice by way of strictly interpreting the Bible. A highly specific, original portrait of the American South, to be sure.
In another example of this movie’s derivativeness, the aforementioned chaste romance is essentially “Twilight” in reverse. The 16-year-old Ethan Wate (played by 23-year-old Alden Ehrenreich, “Stoker”), the world’s least interesting teenage boy with the world’s least interesting name, notices his mysterious new classmate Lena — played by daughter of renowned filmmaker Jane Campion, Alice Englert (“Ginger & Rosa”) — and instantly feels a connection to her, as teenage boys do.
The not-so-shocking obstacle to their destined companionship? Lena is not of this world. She belongs to a race of “casters” (don’t call them witches) who…cast spells? Influence the weather? The extent and purpose of their powers are unclear.
After establishing the central relationship, the characters drone on about the archaic and utterly arbitrary rules of this separate universe. Jeremy Irons (“The Words”) does himself no favors as Lena’s uncle and guardian Macon, though the script is hardly an asset, as he is forced to deliver pallid dialogue about “The Claiming,” essentially a Sweet 16 from hell. This impending ceremony carries unpleasant implications for Lena.
Meanwhile, Emma Thompson (“Men in Black 3”) seems to be enjoying herself as the principal villain, Lena’s mother trapped in the body of Ethan’s friend’s mother. If only the character’s lines were half as clever as the performance suggests.
Emmy Rossum (“Dragonball: Evolution”), who has an energetic unpredictability in the right role, stops by only to model an array of skimpy outfits as Lena’s sister Ridley, who turned evil during The Claiming.
To its credit, the movie inspires much laughter. To its detriment, this laughter often arrives during moments that purport to be highly serious. The filmmakers occasionally acknowledge the movie’s rampant flaws by allowing the characters to mock aspects of the plot, a welcome respite from the tedium. Nonetheless, truly perceptive filmmakers would have alleviated these flaws.
More often, the plot grinds to a halt, lingering on the shallow character development. The chemistry between Ethan and Lena smolders about as much as a wet towel. Lena’s family, allegedly an inherently entertaining cohort of casters with wacky personalities and abilities, barely registers. Even the maternal seer Amma, blessed with a performance from the extraordinarily gifted actress Viola Davis (“Won’t Back Down”), strikes a consistently one-dimensional note.
From an uninitiated perspective, the long-winded narrative might be attributed to a faithful rendering of the prose. While the spirit of faithfulness is admirable, though, the spirit of producing a film that does not induce groans, snoring and derisive laughter is far more important. On that score, “Beautiful Creatures” fails.