"Beastly" is just as superficial and obsessed with looks as the characters and the mindset it rails against, which would seem like a bitter, frustrating irony if it merited the emotional reaction to care that much.
Alex Pettyfer, who isn't exactly on a roll between this and the bombastic sci-fi flick "I Am Number Four," stars as Kyle, the blonde, chiseled son of a blonde, chiseled New York news anchor (Peter Krause) whose idea of parenting is preaching that looking good is all that matters in life. When we first see Kyle, he's exercising in his underwear, which gives you an idea of where writer-director Daniel Barnz is going in adapting Alex Finn's novel, a young-adult take on "Beauty and the Beast." He's arrogant, moneyed and cruel, which makes him the perfect guy to rule his posh Manhattan prep school. It's like, why not? Nothing else here even remotely resembles any kind of nuanced reality, so we may as well play up all possible stereotypes.
One day, Kyle crosses classmate Kendra, who may or may not be a witch. Mary-Kate Olsen plays her with raccoonish eye liner, huge hair and flowing black clothes, as if she's going as Stevie Nicks for Halloween. Kendra places a curse on Kyle that renders him "ugly." Suddenly, his head is shaved and he's covered with facial tattoos and scars that make Mike Tyson look understated. The thing is, Kyle's markings are so artful and stylized, they're actually cool-looking, and not at all hideous. He is not an animal.
Still, he's stuck this way unless he can find someone within one year's time who will love him for him - for the inner beauty that supposedly lurks beneath his Abercrombie & Fitch-model exterior. That person ends up being fellow student Lindy (Vanessa Hudgens of the "High School Musical" series), who's described as a social misfit. Basically, she dresses in a bohemian manner but she still looks like Vanessa Hudgens.
Through a wholly unbelievable series of contrivances, Lindy ends up moving in with Kyle - whom she doesn't recognize, and whose name she thinks is Hunter - into the Brooklyn Heights brownstone with sprawling Manhattan views that constitutes his exile. A tutor (Neil Patrick Harris) visits them just to keep them up to date on school work. And get this - he's blind! But he's the only one who can really see what's happening. No, it's not terribly subtle, but Harris livens things up a bit, and his snappy, sarcastic performance is the only thing that makes "Beastly" even vaguely tolerable.
As Kyle's previously unexplored sensitive side steadily emerges, Lindy naturally falls for him. Then, just as naturally, she will discover that he is, in fact, the jerk who dominated high school with a snarky, iron fist. Pettyfer can't convey his character's emotional torment, and he and the Hudgens lack the chemistry to make you want to root for them to succeed as a couple, despite the ever-perky Hudgens' adorableness. Even the "Twilight"-style teen melodrama feels half-baked.
But hey, at least "Beastly" is short. And that's beautiful.
"Beastly," a CBS Films release, is rated PG-13 for language including crude comments, brief violence and some thematic material. Running time: 86 minutes.