Review - TWILIGHT: NEW MOON "So Wooden, It Floats"

Twilight Saga: New Moon

Lost in the whole ‘Team Edward or Team Jacob: Whose side are you on?’ debate that has cost corporate America countless hours of productivity, is one very important point: Why would either of these guys want to be with a killjoy like Bella?

Kristen Stewart’s gloominess may be the biggest, but it’s far from the only, problem with “The Twilight Saga: New Moon,” the hugely anticipated second chapter in the series. There’s the music, which threatens to suffocate you in its maudlin grasp within the film’s first five minutes. Toss in dialogue so wooden it could float, a bloated 130 minute running time, and you have a languid, campy affair that would seem right at home on a Saturday night airing on the Disney Channel.

[Considering the amount of bare-chested teen heartthrobs on display in “New Moon”, maybe Nickelodeon After Dark would be a better option.]

Director Chris Weitz, hired to replace Catherine Hardwicke, seems as confounded by the material as his predecessor. The movie often feels more padded than the Joker's cell at Arkham. Weitz even fumbles a product placement bit early on.

From the start in this movie, Bella and Edward’s star-crossed romance is on the ropes. A paper cut at Bella’s 18th birthday party convinces Edward (Robert Pattinson) his supernatural world is no place for the girl he loves, so he breaks up with her and leaves Forks with the rest of his family.

Bella, desperate to become part of Edward’s world in blood and spirit, is crushed. Her depression spiral has all the usual trimmings, from the absent glare to the isolation from her friends, even a brooding alt-rock soundtrack. She then decides to embrace her inner X-Games contestant, knowing she can summon Edward’s spirit by risking her life dirt biking and cliff diving.

And Edward does show up, constantly. Considering Pattinson’s huge appeal, the decision to have him show up in ghostly fashion so he wouldn’t disappear for an hour makes marketing sense. But Weitz executes Edward’s apparitional appearances in such clumsy fashion, they evoked steady laughter from the audience at the screening I attended.

Two of the bright spots from the first film, Edward’s family and Bella’s ‘normal’ high school friends, are reduced to glorified cameos this time around. Only Edward’s sister Alice (Ashley Greene) gets any meaningful screen time.

Edward’s disappearance allows Bella to reconnect with her childhood friend from the Quileute tribe, Jacob (Taylor Lautner). He helps her rebuild a motorcycle and more important, gets her to snap out of her love funk. Jacob also wants Bella for himself, but she’s not ready yet.

Jacob struggles with being the ‘rebound guy’ – not to mention ridiculous hair extensions – and it doesn’t help his mood that he has a secret of his own.

At first, Bella thinks Jacob’s new friends are trouble. And the fact that they always run around shirtless and in jean shorts is a bit unsettling. Soon, however, she learns the truth. Jacob and his buddies are werewolves, guarding against their natural enemies, vampires.

This puts Bella in an uncomfortable position. She’s starting to care about Jacob, but she just can’t quit Edward. Does she go with the safe choice, the dear friend she could grow to love, or does she hold on to the torch for the ‘one that got away?’

An interesting subplot with The Volturi, the aristocracy of the vampire world, adds some excitement to the mix. A distraught Edward turns to them as a way to end his tortured existence, setting up the film’s climax.

Sandwiched in between “Underworld: Rise of the Lycans” and the upcoming “Tron Legacy,” Michael Sheen continues to build his Comic-Con cred as Aro, the head of the Volturi.

The scenes at the Volturi stronghold in Italy are the high point of the picture, and it would have been nicer to delve deeper into that corridor of the Twilight mythology. And it should be noted that the wolf transformations illustrated a marked improvement in CGI work over the first movie.

But the focus is squarely on the love triangle at the root of this story. And truth be told, it has the potential for intriguing drama, especially with the supernatural werewolves vs. vampires setting.

Too bad neither the director, script nor the actors are up to the challenge.

As Bella, Kristen Stewart is the focal point of the movie. But her character’s surliness is hard to empathize with, and Stewart, with her unsure glances and awkward body language, is simply not a strong enough actress to bring you into her corner. Can she handle any role besides the ‘uncomfortable in her own skin’ teen? Judging from the two "Twilight" movies, “Cake Eaters” and “Adventureland,” the answer right now would have to be no.

Robert Pattinson revisits the brooding man bit that earned him the worship of millions of women young and uncomfortably old the first time around. He struts through his scenes here like a vampiric Chuck Bass traversing the VIP rooms of Manhattan’s nightlife scene.

Lautner actually spends more time onscreen with Stewart than his more-photographed co-star. But there is zero chemistry between the two, and while he obviously spent many hours in the gym, his acting muscles aren’t developed enough to overcome the stilted dialogue.

Besides, Team Jacob never stands a chance anyway. It’s all about Edward/Bella. Weitz goes all-in with the Romeo and Juliet comparisons. In case you don’t notice the copy of Shakespeare’s tale Bella goes to bed with, there’s the English class discussion of the story to sledgehammer the point home.

It all rings false. Why? Because the actors don’t seem to believe what they’re saying any more than the audience buys what they’re selling. And when the actors in a movie about young vampire love and lurking werewolves aren’t fully invested in the material…well, then you’re only a few years away from midnight audience participation showings at the Sunshine.

You know those insufferably cute happy-date montages they always use in romantic comedies? Edward and Bella needed one of those, to show us that this couple hasn’t been miserable from Day 1 of their relationship. All these two do is whine and make empty declarations of love and devotion. ALL THE TIME!

And saying ‘it’s in the books’ doesn’t cut it. An adaptation of a novel should be able to stand on its own, without forcing people (like this writer) to read the books to fill in the blanks.

Love and romance doesn’t have to be as hard as Edward and Bella make it out to be. It could, and should actually, be…wait for it…fun. Instead, “New Moon” shows us a love pairing that gives Ryan Atwood and Marissa Cooper a run for their melancholia.

Love Bites, indeed.

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