It would be tempting, in this visual era where looks are so incredibly important, to get preachy about, say, how un-camera-friendly Abraham Lincoln would be. Or William Howard Taft. Or FDR. And we could easily say to all the appearance-obsessed adolescents out there that they “ought” to see this parable called “Beastly,” loosely based on “Beauty and the Beast.” But the trouble is, this version is not that good, to recommend it so broadly. Oh, it has some good moments, all right. But at the end it seems like an awful lot of trouble for such great implausibility, and such an obvious “moral to the story.”
Alex Pettyfer plays Kyle, the tremendously popular high schooler who is running for President of the Student Council, and crassly appeals to his audience merely on the basis of his looks, admitting he doesn’t have a political platform and cares about no issues; he just thinks he’s entitled to be their leader. For some unknown reason, they cheer loudly. They all seem to suffer from collective shallowness of the first order, except for Lindy (Vanessa Hudgens), who has too many problems at home to participate in such artificiality, and Kendra (Mary-Kate Olsen), a self-professed witch, who casts a spell on Kyle to make him suddenly ugly. And he will remain that way until somebody professes love for him.
This sounds like the introduction to the Book of Job. The Powers That Be somehow conspire to make someone miserable, and his test is to….not be miserable. Sure, Kyle spends a while sitting in dust and ashes (figuratively speaking), feeling sorry for himself and rejecting everyone and spiraling down into depression and lethargy. Interestingly enough, there’s no religion in this movie. Kyle doesn’t pray. He doesn’t blame God. (Easy enough to blame the witch that he does see rather than the Deity he doesn’t.) His rich, callous father sets him up in a private apartment with a blind tutor and an immigrant maid. Well, it could be worse.
Kyle finds himself obsessing about Lindy, the girl at school, who also has troubles with her absent father (except he’s an addict), and she dreams of escape to Machu Pichu, where she will someday find happiness. Kyle, already stalking her from the shadows, winds up kidnapping her because she’s been threatened by the drug dealers around her Dad. Of course, she’s repulsed by him, but strangely attracted, as well. She somehow cannot put it together that this is the same Kyle from school (same height, same build, same voice, same mannerisms, but somehow she can’t get past his ugly mug even when he puts on a ski mask). Well, OK, so the logic doesn’t really hold together. What we have is an unusual screen romance where the girl is beautiful, and the guy is a frog, just waiting for her to kiss him so he can turn into a handsome prince. Or at the very least, a rich kid no longer spoiled.
Vanessa Hudgens (of “High School Musical” fame) is indeed pleasant to look at, as is Mr. Pettyfer, the son of two professional models. But there’s no real chemistry between them (besides both of them looking too old for their parts), and the plot is flimsy enough, and the secondary characters shallow enough, to not really help them very much, so the result is…just OK. It’s a good little parable for teens. But don’t expect instant classic.

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Co-Pastor, United Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Texas