The recent success of Warm Bodies proves that there's still life to be had—even with a zombie protagonist—in the paranormal-romance genre. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Richard LaGravenese's adaptation of Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl's teen-oriented novel (the first in a series known as the Caster Chronicles). Our tale follows star-crossed South Carolina teen lovers Ethan (Alden Ehrenreich), a mortal, and Lena (Alice Englert), a burgeoning witch (or "caster") whose powers await full activation, with the future of mankind somehow in the balance. This may or may not have something to do with her virginity.
Opens Thurs., Feb. 14 at Pacific Place and other theaters. Rated PG-13. 124 minutes.
Why does the world's fate hinge on this one teen witch? Beautiful Creatures isn't keen on plot; it just provides a little backstory about each new character, then moves on to the next grandiose explosion of magic. The film is driven mostly by spotty narration, bad Southern accents (which make the cast of True Blood sound authentic), small-town stereotypes, and tween notions of love. Lacking is the weighted emotional brevity that hooked fans on the Twilight or Hunger Games series.
What Twilight also had going for it, and Beautiful Creatures lacks, is chemistry between its leads. Ehrenreich looks 28 playing 17; he's oddly creepy next to Englert, whose character is supposed to be 15. Yet Englert (daughter of director Jane Campion) is at home in front of the camera, creating a plausible character despite the script—credited to the novelists and LaGravenese, better known for adult-oriented fare like The Ref and The Fisher King. The veteran actors are the most enjoyable here, as they go wildly over the top with their thin roles. Jeremy Irons (as Lena's haute-gothic uncle) and Emma Thompson (doubly cast as witch and Bible-thumper) gleefully ham it up for their franchise-film paychecks. Only Viola Davis, as a wise librarian, offers a grounded performance.
With four books in the Caster Chronicles, sequels are probably inevitable. I vote that more screen time be given to Emmy Rossum as the seductress Ridley, whose villainy is far more fun than her cousin Lena's wavering virtue.