One of the unfortunate side effects of the “Twilight” phenomenon is an overconfidence in Young Adult source material, and “Beautiful Creatures” is the latest undeserved beneficiary. Add this boy-meets-witch love story to the pile of “Twilight”-spawned rubbish like “Red Riding Hood,” “I Am Number Four” and Taylor Lautner’s acting career.
It’s not that “Beautiful Creatures” isn’t without its pleasures — a supporting cast that includes Emma Thompson, Jeremy Irons and Viola Davis already gives it a classier pedigree than “Twilight” — it’s that the movie is so depressingly half-formed, as if generic teen romance and coming of age struggles married to any sort of vaguely supernatural twist is enough to make an actual film.
The lead characters are star-crossed misfits 17-year-old Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich) and 15-year-old Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert) — since the actors don’t look as young as the characters the age difference isn’t that creepy. He likes to read Kurt Vonnegut and Henry Miller. She’s a witch. The YA fiction formula takes it from there.
Of course they’ll have to triumph over a big dramatic threat to their relationship — Lena is afraid of a family curse that may turn her into a creature of pure evil on her 16th birthday, it already claimed cousin Ridley (“Shameless” star Emmy Rossum) who blows back into town to raise some hell — and some truly terrible special effects if they want their happy ending.
Ehrenreich fares a bit better than Englert at crafting a specific character out of the teen cliches, but their romance isn’t exactly riveting. Writer-director Richard LaGravenese has some serious credits (he adapted “The Fisher King,” “A Little Princess” and “The Bridges of Madison County” in the ’90s, but more recently directed Hilary Swank’s dud “P.S. I Love You”), and apparently he’s made some changes to the book by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. But there’s no magic in his vision.
The story’s remote Southern setting wants to be quirky clever while scoring easy points off religious zealots and isolated small town life. It’s not sharp enough for satire, but it gives Thompson ample opportunity to chew the scenery as a local fundamentalist secretly possessed by the demonic spirit of Lena’s malicious mama. Both Thompson and Irons camp it up as age-old adversaries. Davis plays her role straight and somehow manages to find a shred of emotion inside the thankless role of a wise, but not exactly magical, African-American woman.
Thomas Mann and Zoey Deutch forgettably fill out the younger cast, while respected character actresses Eileen Atkins and Margo Martindale turn up only to make you wonder why they’re there. Most of the adults are decked out in ridiculous costumes that look like rejects from a Tim Burton movie or any random episode of “Once Upon a Time.”
If you’re being generous, you could claim that “Beautiful Creatures” laughs at itself in a way that the overly serious “Twilight” wasn’t capable of. But if the best thing that can be said about a bad melodrama is that the actors are in on the joke, it’s probably time to rethink the approach.