(director/writer: Richard LaGravenese; screenwriter: based on the novel by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl; cinematographer: Erwin Stoff/Andrew A. Kosove/Broderick Johnson/Molly Mickler Smith/David Valdes; editor: David Moritz; music: Thenewno2; cast: Alice Englert (Lena Duchannes), Alden Ehrenreich (Ethan Wate), Viola Davis (Amma), Jeremy Irons (Macon Ravenwood), Emma Thompson (Mrs. Lincoln/Sarafine), Emmy Rossum (Ridley Duchannes), Zoey Deutch (Emily Asher), Thomas Mann (Link), Eileen Atkins (Grandma), Margo Martindale (Aunt Del), Tiffany Boone (Savannah Snow), Kyle Gallner (Larkin Ravenwood), Rachel Brosnahan (Genevieve Duchannes); Runtime: 115; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Erwin Stoff/Andrew A. Kosove/Broderick Johnson/Molly Mickler Smith/David Valdes; Warner Brothers Pictures; 2013)

“What Beautiful Creatures!”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

What Beautiful Creatures!This less than eloquent supernatural teen romance story is set in a fictional backwater town in the South and tells about dark family secrets. It’s a joyless bore, filled with cliches, witches constantly explaining the plot, a leaden other-world story and crass special effects. DirectorRichard LaGravenese (“Living Out Loud”/”Freedom Writers”/”P.S. I Love You “), a veteran screenwriter, is clueless in his pacing of this overlong pic and his camp moments are not funny when they should have been a scream. It’s based on the 2009 bestseller novel for teens by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. Insipidly far-reaching in its hokum. For gravitas it desperately tries to reach out to the poems of Charles Bukowski, which are used to impart life lessons for the teens in their rites of passage struggle. It’s your typical awkward teen pic, but with a greater field of tedium to overcome. The atmospheric pic, even engaging a local Civil War battle re-enactment from 1864, has some goofy throwaway lines such as “Slap my ass and call me Sally” to keep you slightly amused in the hopes you wouldn’t notice how ridiculous is the story and how the talented Brit adult thesps Emma Thompson and Jeremy Irons stick out in a negative way for their awful Southern accents and hammy performances that make it seem they got the script for a different film. Projected as a trilogy, as this novel is only the first of four Caster Chronicles. It is believed by the Hollywood folks that only a bad box office will prevent any more Caster films.

In the uncultured, small-minded, Bible-belt, small-town of Gatlin, South Carolina, 17-year-old high school student and aspiring writer Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich), yearning to attend college in NYC to escape his vapid town, dreams about a girl he’s never met and when he awakens there she is in person. She is the mysterious new student Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert, daughter of director Jane Campion), a pretty witch, who is the relative of the town’s wealthy founding family and lives with him in his gated off-limits haunted mansion. We learn such unfunny things that the ancestral home for the casters was previously in Washington, DC — until Nancy Reagan scared them away.

The teen classmates are attracted to each other after a frosty start on her part and become closer when they discover they share a love of books banned by the town and a disdain for the local opinionated moralistic morons.

The plot starts to move when we learn the troubled Lena, when she will soon turn 16, because of a curse started during the Civil War, will like other family members be engaged in a struggle as the light side and dark side battle to control her inner nature. The mortal Ethan has no power to counter the spells cast by the supernatural witch and her witch family, and that makes them star-crossed lovers with no future even though they share the same cultural values. In this pic the witches are called Casters. The family patriarch of the Caster family is the strangely rock star-like robed erudite recluse Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons), a smoothy who lives in the opulent but spooky Ravenwood Manor and acts as the protector of his niece Lena as he tries to keep his dark urges from getting the better of him. Just before her sweet-sixteenth birthday two dark lady casters try to bring Lena over to the dark side. The youthful Ridley (Emmy Rossum), who makes a grand town entrance in a flashy red BMW convertible by speeding and causing the traffic fatality of a local sheriff, and Sarafine (Emma Thompson), who doubles in the role of Mrs. Lincoln, the town’s censor of books and religious fanatical upholder of Christian morality. She’s also the over-the-top mother of Ethan’s best friend Link (Thomas Mann).Ethan’s an orphan, and on his writer mother’s death bed she requested that her son be looked after by the black librarian, Amma (Viola Davis), when she dies. Amma moonlights as his housekeeper and also happens to be a seer with close connections to Macon and the Duchannes’ clan by being the keeper of an underground library for the casters, as she works in both instances for the white man in roles of servitude.

If you don’t tune out from this listless production, you’ll get to see a concluding dull supernatural fight among the witches and what happens to a relationship of mismatched lovers, in a convoluted jejune Twilight-like pic that feels soulless like so many other lesser mainstream films of this ilk.

Jeremy Irons, Emma Thompson, Emmy Rossum, Viola Davis, Alice Englert, Alden Ehrenreich, and Thomas Mann in Beautiful Creatures (2013)