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'Beautiful Creatures' fun but fails to fascinate

Published: Thursday, Feb. 14 2013 12:15 a.m. MST

Alden Ehrenreich, left, and Alice Englert in "Beautiful Creatures."

Warner Bros. Pictures

Ethan Wate (played by Alden Ehrenreich) thinks he loves a girl who doesn’t exist, but then the girl of his dreams shows up at his high school in "Beautiful Creatures."

Not everyone is happy to have 15-year-old Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert) in class, however. The small and deeply religious town of Gatlin, S.C., doesn’t take kindly to anyone related to the suspected-Satanist Ravenwood family, and Lena is the niece of Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons).

So it's only natural that when two classmates pray loudly for protection from Lena, the classroom windows mysteriously shatter when she clenches her fists.

But Ethan is unperturbed by all this, and he is only too delighted to almost run over a stranded Lena while driving through a rainstorm, giving him the opportunity to drive her to her house. She won’t let him in, but he’s persistent and invites himself back to the overgrown Southern manor.

After a series of increasingly strange events, Ethan realizes Lena may not be a normal girl. She reveals herself to be a witch, or, using the family's preferred term, “caster.”

When Lena turns 16, her powers will be “claimed” by either the light or the dark. A tattoo on her hand keeps track of the days until her birthday, conveniently marking the plot for viewers. As the number goes down, the amount of eyeliner she wears also goes up.

Lena is sure she’ll turn to the dark side, even as basically everyone she knows tells her she’s a good person. The exception is her cousin Ridley (Emmy Rossum), a dark siren who appears to push Lena to her side. This includes a mealtime argument, culminating in a scene that shows not all visual effects are created equal.

Ethan is falling hard for Lena, but his housekeeper Amma (Viola Davis) is nervous. She has secrets of her own and knows things about the past, including a family curse that could have consequences affecting Lena’s claiming and subsequent destiny.

Meanwhile, the community continues to distrust Lena’s family, and, as issues regarding school-age children are best resolved by town meetings, the citizens gather to decide whether Lena should be allowed to attend the public high school.

Then Lena’s mother Sarafine (Emma Thompson), the most powerful dark caster alive, comes on the scene and makes sure nobody can possibly underestimate the seriousness of the impending situation.

Lena has many discoveries and decisions to make if she is going to take charge of her own destiny, but time is short as her birthday, coinciding with the town’s Civil War reenactment in which Ethan is scheduled to participate, approaches.

“Beautiful Creatures,” based on the novel by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, was adapted for the screen and directed by Richard LaGravenese.

Fans of the books or of paranormal teenage romance will enjoy this film, but the remaining audience members may be less forgiving of its made-for-TV special effects, obnoxious score and weak characters.

Lena may perceive Ethan as “drooling charm,” but Ehrenreich doesn't quite portray him as such. Englert, for her part, does the best that could be expected with what her character allows, but the mood swings and angst would grate on anyone’s nerves.

The acting is not wholly disappointing. Veterans Thompson and Irons are delightful and seem to thoroughly enjoy their roles, and while Rossum’s character is nearly as far from her role of Christine Daae as it can be, she fills it easily, and the difference is fun to observe.

The story’s concept is intriguing but doesn’t deliver much magic. If “Beautiful Creatures” turned 16, it would be claimed by the dark.

“Beautiful Creatures” has a running time of 124 minutes and fits snugly into its PG-13 rating for violence, scary images and some sexual material. It also contains more than a few instances of profanity.

Rachel Brutsch is a former intern of the features section of the Deseret News. She has a bachelor's degree in communication from BYU-Idaho. She loves stories in all formats. Email: rachelpbrutsch@gmail.com

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