Alex Pettyfer is in need of a career makeover after this one.

(2011) Fantasy (CBS) Alex Pettyfer, Vanessa Hudgens, Neil Patrick Harris, Mary-Kate Olsen, Peter Krause, Dakota Johnson, Eric Knudsen, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Roc LaFortune, Gio Perez, David Francis, Miguel Mendoza, Steve Godin, Julie Dretzin. Directed by Daniel Barnz

People can be incredibly shallow; we make value judgments based on what we see alone. The way a person looks really does influence how they are treated in life which is often inversely true to how they deserve to be treated. Beauty is often skin deep, although not always.

Kyle (Pettyfer) seems to have it all. The son of a well-known local news anchor (Krause), he attends an exclusive Manhattan private school – an academy, don’t you know. He is running for the Green Committee chairman on a platform that beautiful is better. He doesn’t really care a whit about the environment – he just wants the position for his transcripts so that colleges will think better of him.

He wins but not by as great a margin as he would like to; that’s because the local Goth, Kendra (Olsen) has defaced his posters and badmouthed him. He concocts a plan to humiliate her at a party but that’s a bad idea; you never know when a Goth is a real, live witch who can afflict you with a curse. In Kyle’s case, the curse is to be ugly for a year; if he can find someone to say “I love you” by the year’s end, he’ll revert back to his handsome self. If not, he will be doomed to live that way forever.

So Kyle becomes afflicted with tattoos that seem irremovable; gashes with metallic staples in them, as well as boils and bubbly flesh as well as a bald head; all his sexy hair falls away. His dad is horrified; he takes him to doctors who basically tell him nothing can be done. Rather than take his son home, he banishes him to a townhouse on the Hudson where he claims he will visit from time to time, but never does. Apparently, the rotten apple doesn’t fall far from the blighted tree.

Kyle, now going by the name of Hunter, is not alone in his exile; his housekeeper Zola (Hamilton) is sent along to see to his needs and a private tutor, the blind Will (Harris) is hired to take care of his schooling. None of this helps Kyle, who is brooding and angst-ridden. You can tell this because of the many montages set to moody emo songs.

However, there is hope; the lovely Lindy (Hudgens), a scholarship student who is not wealthy (although she is beautiful) who is forced to stay with Hunter and his crew when her drug-addicted dad (LaFortune) falls afoul of a drug dealer (Perez) – it’s a long story. As she begins to see the inner Hunter (who builds her a greenhouse on the roof of the brownstone to give her an idea of how sensitive he’s become), she begins to fall for the young man but the year is running out and before long, Kyle may remain Hunter…forever.

I have always had a problem with the whole Beauty and the Beast story, upon which this is based (it’s actually based on a young adult novel that was based in turn on the story). It doesn’t have the courage of its own convictions. We all know that the point of it is supposed to be that beauty is only skin deep, but how does that compute when the happily ever after has the beast returning to his handsome outer self?

The movie plays to all the teenage arrogances that piss off most adults. There is a hipper-than-thou vibe which is mildly irritating that comes from having characters who are mostly too rich and too pretty to give a crap about anything else other than their own selves and that never really changes much in the movie.

Pettyfer has a good deal of charisma, although his acting abilities haven’t yet caught up to it quite yet. Then again, that may be due to how the part is written. I really liked him in I Am Number Four; but not so much here. He has the looks and the screen presence to go far, but he frankly needs better performances than this one to get there.

Hudgens, a veteran of the Disney channel’s High School Musical movies, is dreadfully miscast here. She has a certain amount of charm, but has zero chemistry with Pettyfer. Her character is also badly underwritten; you never really get much look at the inside of Lindy who works with the homeless to show us how sensitive and caring she is, but otherwise is just like all the other students who are getting dissed for their insensitivity here. She certainly has a good deal of baggage in the film – a dead mom, an addicted dad – but we only get glimpses of the anger and pain this must be costing her.

The supporting cast is all right. Harris is always delightful, whether in his television show or his movie appearances. The trouble was we don’t get to see enough of him here. Olsen, yes of the Olsen twins fame, is actually revelatory here, making her character at least a little bit three-dimensional despite the white powder and Stevie Nicks wardrobe. She might be however *sob* a bit old for the role.

We all know where the movie is heading and the shallowness that the movie is wagging its finger at self-righteously in the end is celebrated. The movie is all about appearances and that is what bugged me the most. If you’re going to make a morality tale, at least have the courage to stick to your principles. I expected better from the director of Phoebe in Wonderland, a promising indie director who I still believe has some great films in him. This sure ain’t one of them.

I get the feeling this would have made an episode of “Gossip Girl” or “Glee” better than a motion picture. I don’t have a problem aiming a movie for the CW network audience, but I would hope that even movies aimed at that demographic would at least have something in it for parents dragged along to watch. No such luck here.

REASONS TO GO: There are some charming moments. Pettyfer is a star on the rise. Neil Patrick Harris is always a pleasure to see.

REASONS TO STAY: The message the movie sends is disturbing. Almost no chemistry between Hudgens and Pettyfer. The movie is a little too full of itself.

FAMILY VALUES: A few choice bad words and some drug references and even a bit of violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Robert Pattinson and Zac Effron were rumored to be casting choices before the producers settled on Pettyfer.

HOME OR THEATER: Probably better on a home screen.


TOMORROW: Brooklyn’s Finest