If you thought you'd seen enough of the supernatural teen romance genre with the passing of the "Twilight" series, well, brace yourself for the onslaught of pretenders to the sparkly throne. First out of the gate is "Beautiful Creatures" - a star-crossed love story between a boy from the human world, and a girl from a family of powerful witches.
In a southern drawl as thick as molasses in January, Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich) bemoans life in the tiny town of Gatlin, South Carolina . There are ten churches, he explains, and one library. Until he can escape, Ethan plays the good 'ol boy in town with his friend Linc (Thomas Mann), while secretly donning beat-poet glasses and devouring "banned" authors like Vonnegut.
Enter the new girl. Dark-haired and brooding, Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert) immediately sparks Ethan's attention, not just because she's the anti-southern belle, but because he believes she's the girl he's been dreaming of for months. It appears that she has been dreaming of him, too, and both share visions of a bloody Civil War battle and war-torn lovers.
While Ethan and Lena start to become friends, the rest of Gatlin immediately conspires to keep them apart. As the niece of the reclusive and mysterious Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons), Lena draws suspicion from the likes of Linc's mother, Mrs. Lincoln (Emma Thompson).
When strange things begin to happen in Gatlin, the bible-thumping horde naturally points a finger at Lena. Reluctantly, Lena admits to Ethan that she comes from a family of "casters" (don't call them witches), and her power is becoming harder to manage the closer she gets to "The Claiming" - kind of a caster bat mitzvah in which Lena will either be claimed by the light or the dark side on her sixteenth birthday.
When Ethan finally meets Lena's family, the film swerves dramatically from teen romance to high camp. Jeremy Irons lays it on thick as Macon Ravenwood, kind of a weird amalgamation of Tom Wolfe, Atticus Finch and Liberace. Adding to the cray-zay is Emmy Rossum as Lena's trampy cousin, Ridley. Sucking on lollipops and hiking up her skirt, she uses her dark powers to enslave the men folk. But let's not forget Thompson, who sinks her teeth firmly into her role and doesn't let go.
Unfortunately, director Richard LaGravenese ("P.S. I Love You") isn't able to really take the camp aspect and run with it. With the tepid chemistry between Ehrenreich and Englert, it isn't much of a romance. But it isn't much of an action or a fantasy film, either. It's kind of a gloppy, mediocre mess. Based on the series by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, "Beautiful Creatures" differentiates itself from "Twilight" by having a lot more humor, sexual tension and cuss words - not to mention references to Bukowski and a serious aversion to moral authority. But the film misses too many opportunities to help it stand on its own in the genre, and there are too many plot holes to make it understandable to anyone who hasn't read the books. Where is Ethan's dad again? Wait, who is that person? Why is Viola Davis in this? Why isn't Viola Davis in more of this? Why don't Viola Davis and Jeremy Irons make out instead? It doesn't take magic to see that unless the next film gets a new writer/director, we'll never know.
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