Alden Ehrenreich and Alice Englert in Beautiful Creatures.

Alden Ehrenreich and Alice Englert in Beautiful Creatures.

BEAUTIFUL CREATURES (M) ***

Dendy, Hoyts Woden and Belconnen

Reviewer: RON CERABONA

A scene from Beautiful Creatures.

A scene from Beautiful Creatures.

Twilight meets Bewitched could be a high-concept summary of this adaptation of the novel by Margaret Stohl and Kami Garcia. I haven't read it, but the film, written and directed by Richard LaGravenese (best known as a scriptwriter with credits like The Fisher King), is more fun than the rather dour first Twilight movie, with much more spirited characters, even if it's far from perfect.

Ethan (Alden Ehrenreich) is a bookish teenager longing to escape from Gatlin, his small, conservative southern town. He's attracted to a new girl in school, Alice (Lisa Duchannes) who's also a keen reader - he's a fan of Kurt Vonnegut Jr, she likes Charles Bukowski - but he soon finds out that she's more than the typical misfit. Alice is a ''caster'' (''witch'' is apparently an offensive term) from a family of them who settled the town: she is staying with her uncle Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons) and awaiting her 16th birthday when she finds out her true nature: light or dark. Falling in love with a mortal boy is rather frowned upon and Macon, for one, does what he can to keep them apart. But it's not easy.

Duchannes and (especially) Ehrenreich are too old for their characters, but Ethan and Alice are more fun to be with than mopey Bella and Edward, with some enjoyable banter before the story really gets going with its supernatural element. We learn that the town librarian, Amma (Viola Davis) has more in her life than dealing with a community that bans books and looking in on the motherless Ethan from time to time (his father doesn't seem to be around much either). We also learn that Mrs Lincoln (Emma Thompson), the pious mother of Ethan's friend Link (Thomas Mann), has another side to her.

The film has some reasonably well evoked small-town atmosphere - Civil War re-enactments, the Ravenwood mansion - and although Irons and Thompson ham it up a bit, they add a touch of class to the proceedings. But it feels overlong (a little over two hours) and underdone, as though scenes had been left on the cutting-room floor to keep down the running time: a lot goes unexplored or unexplained while other elements are belaboured.

There are some impressive special effects - like the rain that falls only on Ethan when Alice is mad at him, some more elaborate - but overall this is a mildly enjoyable character-focused piece that feels like it could have been better.