Film Reviews: “Beastly” / “Take Me Home Tonight”

by Jason LeRoy on March 4, 2011

Mary-Kate Olsen and Alex Pettyfer in BEASTLY

Beastly

starring: Alex Pettyfer, Vanessa Hudgens, Neil Patrick Harris, Mary-Kate Olsen, Peter Krause, Lisa Gay Hamilton

directed by: Darren Barnz

MPAA: Rated PG-13 for language including crude comments, brief violence and some thematic material.

Topher Grace, Anna Faris, and Dan Fogler in TAKE ME HOME TONIGHT

Take Me Home Tonight

starring: Topher Grace, Anna Faris, Dan Fogler, Teresa Palmer, Chris Pratt, Michael Biehn, Lucy Punch, Demetri Martin, Michelle Trachtenberg, Michael Ian Black, Angie Everhart, Bob Odenkirk

directed by: Michael Dowse

MPAA: Rated R for language, sexual content and drug use.

As a general rule, I don’t combine film reviews. While it can be amusing to contrast seemingly disparate films and look for unexpected common ground, I find it’s usually better to consider each film separately and on its own terms. But in the case of Beastly and Take Me Home Tonight, there are enough similarities to warrant being lumped together. Specifically, they were both filmed a while ago (Beastly in early 2009, Tonight all the way back in 2007), then shelved for various reasons. And while each has a few redeeming qualities, both could just as easily have gone straight to DVD.

Beastly, which is basically a low-rent Beauty and the Beast by way of Gossip Girl, stars embattled Spinning Platters interviewee Alex Pettyfer as Kyle, a brazenly narcissistic golden god who attends a tony Manhattan private school. As the film begins, he is campaigning for an environmental student leadership position solely on the platform of being good-looking. He gets this from his father (Derek Zoolander Peter Krause, a long way from Six Feet Under), a cable news anchor who earnestly says things like, “Being good-looking is the only thing that matters.”

And Kyle is definitely good-looking. The film opens with an unabashed display of Pettyfer porn, as the barely legal (while filming) young actor writhes his way through a rigorous workout in nothing but a pair of tiny black boxer briefs. But he is also mean-spirited, callow, and vicious. For example, we notice that the “Interests” section on his online profile reads: NO FATTYCAKES – BUTTS WITH GUTS. And unfortunately my review has to end there, because I was too busy laughing at that for the rest of the movie to hear anything else.

J/k you guys. I only laughed for a few minutes. Anyway, Kyle runs into trouble in the form of a teen witch named Kendra (Mary-Kate Olsen, styled to look almost identical to Ke$ha; or, in the words of the older gentleman seated to my right, “She looks like Stevie Nicks!”).

"Prune."

See what I mean? Kyle repeatedly insults Kendra in front of the student body, because evidently his mother never taught him that a witch will cut a bitch. So, Kendra puts a curse on Kyle that his beautiful outsides will change to match his ugly insides. And apparently his insides resemble a leather/fetish porn actor, because that’s what he looks like after his transformation. Kendra tells Kyle that if someone doesn’t fall in love with him in the next year, he’ll stay like this forever (and have to get a job bare-backing at Raging Stallion).

Enter Lindy (Vanessa Hudgens), a beautiful do-gooder with a junkie father. And ugh, don’t make me describe the plot anymore, I don’t want to. If you know what happens in Beauty and the Beast, you know the story. The first act of Beastly is so flamingly campy, you start to think you can settle in for a good old-fashioned howler. Pettyfer (showing more personality than his vacant performance in I Am Number Four, but grappling awkwardly with his American accent) and Krause are forced to utter lines of dialogue so hilariously superficial, only the most cartoonish fashion tyrant would say them (Galliano, cough).

And then there’s Kendra the witch. I never though I’d type these words, but here they are: Mary-Kate Olsen delivers a film-stealing performance. Not that there was much to steal, but regardless. She is to Beastly what Gina Gershon was to Showgirls: the only actor who knows exactly what movie she’s in. Every time she was onscreen, it was all I could do to stop myself from waving my finger and screaming “GIRRRL!!!” Neil Patrick Harris, whom I can only assume smelled the potential for camp, shows up as a blind tutor. I wish I could say Beastly was so bad it’s good, but mostly it’s just bad.

And then there’s Take Me Home Tonight (formerly called Kids in America), another story about a boy pining for a girl while hiding his true identity. The year is 1988, and Matt Franklin (Topher Grace) is a recent MIT graduate currently wasting his life working at Suncoast Video. One day his unrequited high school crush, Tori Frederking (I Am Number Four scene-stealer Teresa Palmer, who could be Kristen Stewart’s hotter blonde sister), walks into his store. Matt freaks out and pretends not to work there. They strike up a conversation, and Matt claims to work in finance like Tori (a recent Duke graduate – all the characters in this movie are curiously overeducated).

Tori tells Matt there’s a big party happening that night, sort of a post-college reunion for all their high school friends. So, Matt rounds up his twin sister Wendy (Anna Faris, brunette for the first time since Scary Movie 2) and his townie car-dealer best friend Barry (Dan Fogler), and they set off for a night they’ll never forget, etc.

There was really no need for this movie. It’s just another limply formulaic ’80s nostalgia-driven romantic comedy. It adds absolutely nothing new to the genre. It is no different from the scores of other high school comedies built around one epic party-filled night; the only difference is that these characters have just graduated from college (and this is rated R, so there’s nudity and drugs). I will admit that the sight of a late-’80s record store (in the opening scene) and Suncoast Video were enough to make me temporarily swoon with nostalgia, but those were the highlights.

Anna Faris and Chris Pratt

Take Me Home Tonight isn’t awful. It is spirited and sporadically funny, and features a stellar ensemble cast of gifted comedic actors, especially Demetri Martin and You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger MVP Lucy Punch. We also get to see a pre-Parks and Recreation Chris Pratt as Wendy’s boyfriend (fun fact: Pratt and Faris met while making this movie, and have since married). Pratt’s youthful, slender appearance is just one of the ways you can tell how long ago this was filmed. Another is the inclusion of the exact same “penis game” gag we all saw a few years ago in (500) Days of Summer.

Take Me Home Tonight is a much better film than Beastly, and at least provides a decently fun time, but it’s far too shamelessly derivative to fully recommend. And Beastly could only be recommended for the most undiscerning of tweens.

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