It's easy to try to force Beautiful Creatures, the film based on the young romance novel of the same name, into the same pigeonhole as other stories about teens — one mortal, the other supernatural. That's unfair.
While the film includes the basic elements that have been used in everything from Twilight to Harry Potter, they take on a fresh look through some interesting writing, a handful of fascinating characters, and a pair of young lovers who look emotionally awake.
Ethan (Alden Ehrenreich) and Lena (Alice Englert) are the star-cursed lovers. He's a likable high school student who dreams of leaving his small Southern town for a better life; she's a witch who in a few days will turn toward the light or dark. The pair have just a few days to find a way to make sure Lena doesn't go all Wicked Witch of the West during the town's big Civil War re-enactment. Ethan doesn't care that one of her potential futures is evil — he just knows that he likes the quirky new kid in town.
Although Englert's performance at times smacks of indifference, Ehrenreich brings enough energy for the pair. There's a sweet determination in his efforts to win Lena's heart that makes the romance work.
Left on their own, "Beautiful Creatures" would have just been an average teen romance. The movie gets elevated by a supporting cast topped by Emma Thompson and Jeremy Irons. The much-heralded actors bring a depth to every scene — particularly when they're together — that's rich, textured and brilliant enough to cover up anyone else's flaws.
Toss in a solid performance by Viola Davis, as the local voodoo expert, and sexually charged work by Emmy Rossum and this movie has layers of solid actors to surround the central couple. Rossum is particularly good as a vixen who uses sexuality as an effective tool.
Director Richard LaGravenese is smart enough not to rely too heavily on computer-generated effects to create creepy moments, forcing his actors to embrace both their good and bad sides. This creates well-rounded acting efforts by most of the cast.
The director does have a slight bit of trouble establishing an even tone. He slip-slides between a typical teen romance and a tale of terror mixed with dashes of Tim Burton-ish whimsy.
At first glance, "Beautiful Creatures" may look like a typical supernatural teen tale of love, and in many ways that's a fair assessment. But at its heart, there's plenty of wicked wit to go along with the wicked witches to give it a little more movie magic.
Written and directed by Richard LaGravenese, based on the Kami Garcia-Margaret Stohl novel. A Warner Brothers release, playing at Rave Franklin Park, Fallen Timbers, and levis Commons. Rated PG-13 for violence, scary images, and some sexual material. Running time: 117 minutes.
Critic's rating: ***
Mrs. Lincoln / Sarafine...Emma Thompson