Abused girlfriends cover up a murder in black comedy caper undermined by obvious loopholes
While leaving town to get away from her abusive boyfriend, Dorothy (Susan Lynch) comes upon a scene that's all-too-familiar to her: another young woman getting smacked around in the middle of the street.
High on courage and indignation -- at least for the moment -- Dorothy picks up a pipe and bashes the guy's head in, saving platinum blonde trophy squeeze Petula (Rachel Wiesz). But now these newly-bonded sisters have a dead body on their hands.
Such is the set-up for "Beautiful Creatures," an energetic and sometimes clever, dark comedy crime thriller from Scotland that's full of sharp ideas but undermined by blunt-headed characters and logistical loopholes.
Not versed in the fine art of corpse dumping, the women take the stiff back to Dorothy's apartment and decide to fake a kidnapping. Not versed in kidnapping, it isn't long before they've aroused the suspicions of three dangerous and highly dubious men -- Dorothy's boyfriend (Iain Glenn), the dead man's career criminal brother (Maurice Roeves), and a quite crooked detective (Alex Norton).
Noir-ish scheming and double-crosses follow as these two women get in way over their heads. But the movie is saddled with a frustrating pattern of inventiveness and ignorance that seems to indicate writer Simon Donald and director Bill Eagles kept painting themselves into corners and continually had to chuck common sense to get back out again.
Because Petula's bombshell looks mask a nervous naivete that makes her a bad liar when it comes to spinning yarns about her missing beau, Dorothy devises a way to trick her into genuine fear and agitation when the inspector comes to question her. Dorothy mails a severed finger to Petula without telling her about it in advance.
It works for Petula. She screams and goes into a tizzy when she opens the package right in front of the cop. But it doesn't work for the audience because we're expected to buy into the ridiculously far-fetched notions that 1) the finger would arrive in the mail the same day the detective comes to question Petula, 2) the mail would arrive while he's there, and 3) Petula would then casually open said mail while being bombarded with questions about her missing boyfriend.
The movie is littered with these kinds of problems. It apparently takes place in a world without modern forensics, cell phone records (the girls coordinate using the dead man's phone) or neighbors who call the cops when guns go off in their apartment building. And the only way several plot developments can come to fruition is if Dorothy and Petula frequently swing back and forth between fairly intelligent and unrealistically ignorant.
In one scene, Dorothy finds drugs and a big knife in a pocket of her boyfriend's golf bag -- then doesn't bother searching the rest of the bag. Later her boyfriend returns and holds her at gunpoint with a big, silver automatic she would have found in there if she wasn't such an idiot. After getting out of that one, Dorothy and Petula leave the boyfriend alone in the apartment with only his hands tied. Gee, think he'll escape?
It's really a shame this kind of preposterousness torpedoes "Beautiful Creatures" because somewhere inside this sinking vessel is a pretty canny caper that deserves better. The writer and director clearly know where they want to go, and they've packed well for the trip -- the gritty, underexposed colors gives the movie a distinctive visual signature, the glib dialogue gives the characters appealing dimension. But they keep taking wrong turns along the way until they're so lost they can't even tell what to play funny and what play tense.
By the end, Lynch and Weisz are the picture's only saving graces. They flesh out these women in splendid performances that show their vulnerabilities and their emotional baggage ("No more dealers, junkies or criminals!" plain and put-upon Dorothy declares as she builds up the courage to leave in the first reel) without turning them into melodramatic martyrs, like some Thema and Louise for the "Trainspotting" set.