Review: ‘Beautiful Creatures’

"Beautiful Creatures" misfires on so many levels it's hard even to guess at the filmmakers' original intentions. Part kooky comedy, part black comedy, part caper movie and also -- yes -- part dark drama, pic about two young women thrown together by an accidental murder plays like a movie where the script went missing on the third day of shooting. With no marquee names to attract even the curious, "Creatures" will be dead in the water once word gets out. At a present running time of only 86 minutes (including a standard end crawl) further cutting is not even an option.

“Beautiful Creatures” misfires on so many levels it’s hard even to guess at the filmmakers’ original intentions. Part kooky comedy, part black comedy, part caper movie and also — yes — part dark drama, pic about two young women thrown together by an accidental murder plays like a movie where the script went missing on the third day of shooting. With no marquee names to attract even the curious, “Creatures” will be dead in the water once word gets out. At a present running time of only 86 minutes (including a standard end crawl) further cutting is not even an option.

As the first baby from DNA Films — one of three production consortia set up in 1997 with guaranteed access to matching funding from the U.K. Lotto — pic has been awaited with some curiosity, not least because DNA has taken three years to come up with any goods. The fact that DNA is run by two of Blighty’s most successful producers, Duncan Kenworthy (“Four Weddings,” “Notting Hill”) and Andrew Macdonald (“Trainspotting”), also ratcheted up expectation, with both promising a “brand identity” to their output, and with the script as “the first star.”

The irony of “Creatures” is that its first star is d.p. James Welland, whose precise, attractive lensing brings a sheen and professionalism to the production that’s strikingly absent from other departments — notably writing and direction.

Script by Scottish actor-playwright Simon Donald (who helmed the chaotic pic version of his own play, “The Life of Stuff”) lacks wit, structure and pacing; direction by TV drama maker Bill Eagles is technically OK but with no feel for rhythm or comic timing.

Opening sets up an intriguing premise as couple Dorothy (Susan Lynch) and Tony (Iain Glen) are seen arguing on a train, with him screaming at her for mislaying his golf clubs. Dorothy returns alone to their apartment to find he’s trashed the place and, worse, stained her dog Pluto with red paint. En route to catching a bus south to London, Dorothy sees a drunk attacking a woman in the street and brains him with a scaffolding pole.

The woman is Petula (Rachel Weisz), a somewhat ditzy platinum blonde, and the man is Brian (Tom Mannion), her brutish boyfriend and younger brother of her boss, psycho businessman Ronnie (Maurice Roeves). Dorothy helps Petula haul the unconscious body back to her apartment, and, when Brian drops dead in the bathroom, the two femmes bond to find a solution to their quandary.

Intro takes 25% of the movie’s entire running time, with some especially lackluster dialogue between the pair as the script laboriously works its way to a central premise the audience has already guessed. What finally looks poised to become a two-women-outwit-the-law comedy, driven by sparky dialogue and performances, becomes an equally laborious semi-caper movie, as the amateurish duo try to fabricate a ransom scenario and stay one step ahead of a bent cop (Alex Norton), mad Ronnie and the equally violent and psychotic Tony, who reappears on the scene.

Weisz, an actress who needs both a strong script and direction to shine, gets neither here and is embarrassingly miscast as a blonde ditz. Irish actress Lynch, a real talent, is also far too heavyweight for Dorothy, with (at least under Eagles’ direction) no sense of comic timing. Chemistry between the two comes over as workmanlike rather than natural, a further Achilles’ heel to a film about distaff friendship.

Supporting perfs are OK, with Norton and Roeves solid enough but the latter’s character especially is seriously underwritten. When the guns come out in the final reels, and the tone turns suddenly umbral, even the cast starts to look confused about what kind of movie they’re meant to be in.

Scottish setting is well caught in Welland’s lensing, and a harmlessly bouncy score by Murray Gold tries to engender a sense of lightness throughout.

Beautiful Creatures

U.K.

Production

A UIP (in U.K.)/Universal (in U.S.) release of a DNA Films presentation, in association with United Pictures Intl. and the Arts Council of England, of a Snakeman production. Produced by Alan J. Wands, Simon Donald. Directed by Bill Eagles.

Crew

Screenplay, Simon Donald. Camera (Technicolor prints), James Welland; editor, Jon Gregory; associate editor, Ian Seymour; music, Murray Gold; production designer, Andy Harris; art director, Frances Connell; costume designer, Trisha Biggar; sound (Dolby Digital), Louis Kramer; stunt coordinator, Tom Delmer; assistant director, Graeme Gordon; casting, Nina Gold. Reviewed at Edinburgh Film Festival (Focus on British Cinema), Aug. 23, 2000. Running time: 86 MIN.

With

Petula - Rachel Weisz Dorothy - Susan Lynch Det. Insp. George Hepburn - Alex Norton Tony - Iain Glen Ronnie McMinn - Maurice Roeves Brian McMinn - Tom Mannion Kiosk Guy - Robin Laing

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