**1/2 (out of four)
Among many reasons the “Twilight” movie franchise didn’t work, Edward (Robert Pattinson) and Bella (Kristen Stewart) make lousy characters, separately and together. Be it the script, the performances, whatever: The couple personified “blah.”
That’s not the case in “Beautiful Creatures,” the latest big-screen adaptation of a popular teen novel, this one by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl.
Ethan (Alden Ehrenreich) is an ordinary teenager starting his junior year and longing to get out of small-town Gatlin, S.C. New girl in town Lena (Alice Englert) is a caster—essentially a witch, though that’s not the preferred term—and, like Edward’s take on Bella, she fears she may hurt Ethan if he gets too close.
But the passion of teen romance trumps inhibitions or otherworldly power-based rules, and Ethan and Lena can’t imagine being more than a few feet apart. He envies her travels and mystery; she admires his stability and dedication. Ehrenreich and Englert feed the heat between these two, and you actually hope this potentially doomed relationship gets a fair shot.
Outside of their bond, “Beautiful Creatures” often feels leaden. Writer-director Richard LaGravenese (“P.S. I Love You”) shovels on so much plot that the film takes forever to set up and keeps expanding its mythology without taking off. The big question is whether Lena’s witchly powers will be assigned to the light or the dark on her impending 16th birthday. Uncle Macon (Jeremy Irons) roots for the good, while Mrs. Lincoln (Emma Thompson, having fun as a Southern belle) and cousin Ridley (Emmy Rossum) favor evil.
Setting aside the whole witch thing, it’s not hard to recall being that age and the sensation of being pulled in many different directions, unsure of what you will become and how.
For a while, LaGravenese’s script has pep, and he effectively and sometimes funnily sets the scene in tiny, God-fearing Gatlin. In voiceover, Ethan notes that the town gets movies after they’ve already been released on DVD, and even then they’re spelled wrong—the marquee advertises the latest Leo DiCaprio movie, “Interception.” Christopher Nolan could make a visually astounding mind-melder of a football movie with effects and momentum far stronger than “Beautiful Creatures.”
As far as teen dramas with admirably strong female characters go, though, “Beautiful Creatures” gets its world off to a decent start.
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