Mere months after the tween-lit vampire franchise Twilight ended its protractedly popular cinematic run, along comes Richard LaGravenese’s occasionally inspired, mostly slack adaptation of the first of four South Carolina–set fantasy witch novels by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. Only don’t call Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert) and her brethren “witches”; they’re “casters,” a race of magical beings who have lived alongside us humans since time immemorial. Once these conjurers hit age 16, they are claimed by the “Light” or the “Dark,” which causes some issues between Lena and her mortal inamorato, Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich), who narrates this mystical romance with cornpone insouciance.
As with many young-adult book-to-film series, Beautiful Creatures plays like an illustrated compendium of scenes from the novel, as opposed to a finely tuned narrative all its own. LaGravenese’s few good ideas, like a running gag involving Leonardo DiCaprio movies, or the stunning reveal of the interior of Lena’s decrepit abode, can’t make up for the perfunctorily portentous nature of the storytelling. (Supernatural power as metaphor for adolescent travails has about run its thematic course.) And while Ehrenreich and Englert have a pleasing chemistry, the rest of the cast—notably, Emma Thompson’s Southern-fried necromancer—are instead given free rein to cash their paychecks while slicing the ham cringingly thick. But hey, this is still leagues beyond The Golden Compass.
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