It's gotta be tough for writers these days trying to find a new hook or at least a new spin on an old one.
William Shakespeare pretty much nailed the star-crossed lovers thing nearly half a millennium ago with "Romeo and Juliet." Jane Austen and seemingly every other 19th century author I had to read in English literature classes explored the nuances of lovers separated by class / social standing. Movies have tackled romantic / racial boundaries since the '50s ("West Side Story," a riff on "Romeo and Juliet") and the '60s ("Guess Who's Coming to Dinner").
So today we're left with girls falling in love with vampires ("Twilight") and zombies ("Warm Bodies"), and now a boy who's in love with a witch with "Beautiful Creatures." Of course, anyone familiar with "Bell, Book and Candle" or "Bewitched" knows that pairing isn't exactly original, and the average episode of "Bewitched" was more entertaining than this dreary "Twilight" wannabe.
Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich) is a high school senior counting down the days until he graduates and can get as far away as possible from the backwater South Carolina 'burb he calls home. Then Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert) arrives in town. She's staying with her reclusive uncle (Jeremy Irons), and the gossip mill has the small-minded Christians - the movie is filled with offensively stereotypical portrayals of people of faith - speculating she is a witch, a demon or worse (a Democrat?).
But Lena looks like the girl who's been haunting Ethan's dreams all summer long. And it turns out she is a witch, and on her 16th birthday she will learn whether she is a good witch or a bad witch (although Lena and her ilk prefer the term "caster"). And a family curse may seal her fate, no matter how good Lena might be or how pure her feelings are for Ethan.
Ehrenreich, whose square head and boyish good looks make him look like Leonardo DiCaprio's dark-haired younger brother, plays Ethan with a dripping distain for his small town life and delivers a running commentary of snarky comments with an accent thicker than day-old grits. He comes off more like barely closeted character in a Tennessee Williams play or the best friend of a Real Housewife in Atlanta.
WHAT: "Beautiful Creatures"
STARS: Alden Ehrenreich, Alice Englert, Jeremy Irons, Emma Thompson, Viola Davis, Emmy Rossum and Margo Martindale.
STORYLINE: A teenager falls in love with a witch, who will find out on her 16th birthday whether she's a good witch or a bad witch.
DIRECTOR: Richard LaGravenese
RATING: PG-13 for violence, scary images and some sexual material.
I kept expecting him to get a real education from Irons' genteel Macon Ravenwood, and Ehrenreich couldn't have any less on-screen chemistry with Irons (who commits fully to this southern Gothic folly while picking up a paycheck) than he does with Englert, who's dark and mopey and dull.
Irons isn't the only one slumming here. Emma Thompson is delightfully over-the-top as a sorceress inhabiting the body of the town's self-appointed moral guardian, but Viola Davis has absolutely nothing to do as a friend of Ethan's dead mother.
Writer-director Richard LaGravenese gets no sparks between his central couple, but he manages the occasional flourish of computer-generated special effects. However, there aren't enough of those moments to entertain anyone expecting more action than romance. And it's hard to believe that any Twihard will consider Ethan and Lena an adequate stand-in for Edward and Bella.
"Beautiful Creatures" is the first of four novels in the series by Kami Garcia. More than likely, though, this movie will drive a stake through the heart of a potential franchise.