PLOT: A handsome high schooler learns a lesson when he's cursed with ugliness.
BOTTOM LINE: A sometimes clever, sometimes clumsy update of a classic fairy tale.
CAST: Alex Pettyfer, Vanessa Hudgens, Neil Patrick Harris, Mary-Kate Olsen
An updated version of a fairy tale about the shallowness of beauty, "Beastly" focuses on some of nature's nastiest and most brutish creatures: teenagers.
Who better to illustrate the ugly twin obsessions of appearance and acceptance? "Beastly" begins in the fictional Buckston Academy in Manhattan, where popular senior Kyle Kingston (Alex Pettyfer, "I Am Number Four") sits atop the social pyramid. His notable qualities: a chiseled face, family money and a capacity for cruelty.
Only the school's resident goth, Kendra (an amusing Mary-Kate Olsen), sees through him, which so rankles Kyle that he humiliates her in public. Bad move: Kendra turns out to be a witch, and her cryptically slangy incantation - "Embrace the suck!" - makes mincemeat of Kyle's face and body. Kyle must now find someone who will love him, or stay disfigured forever.
He picks Lindy, an intelligent, self-possessed classmate played by an appealing Vanessa Hudgens. Through a clumsy plot twist, Lindy must live with Kyle in his ritzy hideout, but parents needn't worry: Their chaperones are a blind tutor (Neil Patrick Harris) and a kindly maid (Stony Brook's Lisa Gay Hamilton).
Directed and written (from Alex Flinn's novel) by Daniel Barnz, "Beastly" rather ironically suffers from Kyle's distracting looks. His face is so elaborately gashed, tattooed and even soldered that the makeup artists seem to lose their place from scene to scene. It's also hard to take seriously a guy whose left eyebrow says "suck." Beneath it all, however, is a movie with a good heart.