Beautiful Creatures

Meant to be a Romeo and Juliet love story with a fresh take, “Beautiful Creatures” goes out of its way to combine conventions of the romantic melodrama and the supernatural to largely mixed effects.

Young, romantic, not very discriminating viewers, may like this picture, which Warner is releasing as its Valentine Day’s fare this weekend.

I have not read the book, a New York Times bestseller and first in the series by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, but my feeling is that the literary source offers more pleasure than the filmic version.

Like many of its kind, the tale is set in a sleepy Southern town, Gatlin, South Carolina, where “nothing happens,” until and unless you look more carefully beneath the surface.

In this case, the residents begin to feel the bizarre evidence of magical forces, deeply rooted in the past, that suddenly reemerge, determined to shape events of the present.

The likeable protagonists are Ethan, a high school senior who wants to break free from his small town existence, and Lena, a Caster, who seems to possess scary supernatural powers.

Both, as could be expected are outsiders and even outcasts, alienated from their families and their surroundings, feeling emotionally suffocated and eager to break off.

Longing to break free from a family curse, Lena, 16, faces mysterious forces called “The Claiming,” and for a while it’s unclear if she has been “chosen” or not, and whether the forces are of Light or of the Dark.

Despite the particular social context, “Beautiful Creatures” is unable to escape the clichés and myths of numerous youth romances, grounded in the long-cherished melodramatic tradition. Can Ethan and Lena’s love conquer all obstacles between two star-crossed souls? Are they ultimately free individuals who can make choices for themselves and control their own destinies?

Richard LaGravenese has adapted expertly other books into effective romantic melodramas, and you cannot blame the writing or dialogue, which are fluent and occasionally engaging. But as skillful as LaGravenese is as scripter, he is limited by the source material, which he can elevate up to a point.

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