The South has always seemed like a scary place. Everything's bigger down there, the slow fast-food service makes everybody late, and Bible-thumpers run rampant. The town of Gatlin in Beautiful Creatures has the last one going for it; fiery sermons and banned books are still the norm. The Confederacy is known as a heroic entity, while apparent weirdos like Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert) are tortured at school.
It's nothing new for Lena, who's bounced around schools and never had friends because she's quiet and different. Lena's a "caster," basically a witch with more teenage angst, which manifests itself by Lena telepathically breaking windows over her teasing classmates. Everybody knows she's a caster, though nobody can confirm it -- or they are just too powerless to stop it. Or something.
Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich) doesn't care. He's into Lena from the start, mostly because she reads cool banned books like he does and because he's been seeing her in his dreams before he had ever met her (and, spoiler alert: she's been seeing him too! OMG!). He aw-shucks his way into Lena's mansion where he meets her uncle Macon (Jeremy Irons) and eventually learns that Lena's going to be "claimed" on her 16th birthday by either the light side or the dark side of her powers. It's Twilight meets Revenge of the Sith meets Disney Channel's The Thirteenth Year.
Fantasy stories need to establish an internal set of rules and mythology; Beautiful Creatures has them, but they're over-complicated, unclear and overall pretty mundane. What's so bad about being "dark" anyway? Lena's cousin Ridley (Emmy Rossum) seems to enjoy it, shape-shifting and slutting it up to her heart's delight. There's no clear benefit to being "light," aside maybe from the ability to conjure romantic snowstorms on a whim.
Ehrenreich brings a wide-eyed energy that's mildly endearing, and Rossum's sexy strut jump-starts any scene she's in, but the rest of the cast makes this two-hour action-less romance even more of a slog than it already is. Englert has a startling lack of charisma. Viola Davis plays a disappointingly racially stereotyped role as a knowledgeable magical historian and looks half-asleep while doing it. And Irons? Oh man. His Southern accent is so beyond bad that it can't even be played for laughs. This guy played the menacing voice of Scar and now he's doing horrible John Wayne impressions in a bit part of a teen romance?
We all think the new generation needs explosions and sex to be entertained, but they seem content to sit through an overlong mystical melodrama just fine. It doesn't make sense, and neither does Beautiful Creatures.
Rated PG-13 for violence, scary images and some sexual material. GRADE: C-