Despite his 107 years on the planet, Edward Cullen doesn't seen to have absorbed much in the way of wisdom, maturity or ingenuity. I mean, here he is, repeating senior year in high school for something like the 90th time, and he's STILL a petulant, self-absorbed teenager, sitting in the back of the class and scoffing at yet another lesson about "Romeo and Juliet." You'd think by now he would have figured out a way to pass himself off as a young-looking 21-year-old rock star---or hey, maybe he could put his supernatural skills to use by turning himself into a better golfer than Tiger Woods.
Anything to break the monotony.
In "The Twilight Saga: New Moon," the boys preen way more than the girls. Robert Pattinson's Edward has the stylish wardrobe, the eyeliner, the rouge, the lip gloss and the perfect hair, while Taylor Lautner's Jake spends most of his time whipping off his shirt in the rain so his abs can sparkle. At the screening I attended, dozens of teen girls squealed multiple times at the sight of Pattinson walking in slow motion, Lautner flexing his pecs. The only thing missing was a cameo by the Jonas Brothers. In the meantime, Kristen Stewart's Bella is now 18, but she wears no discernible makeup, dresses like a 12-year-old boy and has two moods: pouting and sullen. No wonder 14-year-old girls love these books and movies. The female lead isn't threatening, and the boys are studly and always fighting over her.
"New Moon" picks up where the first "Twilight" ended, with Edward and Bella deeply in love. The one-note Bella keeps pleading with Edward to "change her" (i.e., turn her into a vampire), but Edward continues to resist the urge to make her immortal, steal her soul and possibly round third base and make it home all in one act. For much of this plodding, achingly slow, 130-minute chapter in the saga, Edward and Bella are physically apart. The Cullens have to move every couple of years because people start noticing the kids aren't aging, so Edward bids Bella goodbye, telling her, "This is the last time you'll ever see me."
Bella falls into a multiple-months funk. This is illustrated by an admittedly impressive sequence from director Chris Weitz, who rotates the camera 360 degrees around Bella as she sits in her bedroom while the seasons change outside her window. Finally, Bella's puppy dog-friendly pal Jacob puts a little pep in her step, fixing up motorcycles with her, taking her to the movies, becoming her study-buddy. "You're buff!" exclaims Bella, as Jake keeps flexing those muscles and tossing back his long black hair, which looks suspiciously like a wig from the Cher collection circa 1979.
For the better part of an hour, Edward exists only as an apparition, warning Bella to stay away from danger---but she's become an adrenaline junkie, because that's the only way she can see the ghostly Edward fluttering about with his echo-chamber voice, as if he's auditioning for the role of The Ghost of Christmas Chastity. Weitz peppers the soundtrack with one Sundance-friendly hipster song after another, as if he watched "Juno" one too many times, as Bella keeps Jacob at arm's length while biting her lower lip and sending off dozens of e-mails to Edward's sister, who seems to have changed her address and has probably un-friended Bella on Facebook as well. For her own good.
Between long bouts of romantic longing, "New Moon" has spurts of mildly scary action, including a cameo by the revenge-minded vampire Victoria (she's hot), and the appearance of some CGI werewolves, who growl with great ferocity and pound the earth with their heavy steps, but lurch about in a way that constantly draws attention to the special effects wizardry. They look more like German shepherds on steroids than the werewolves of classic myth. The confrontations between werewolf and vampire are scant and unsatisfying, and the Victoria storyline is left unresolved. Get on with it already.
After the extremely slow build-up, "New Moon" gains a much-needed shot of adrenaline in the final act, with some ludicrous but fast-paced business that has Edward in Italy, threatening to pull a Romeo because he thinks Juliet, I mean Bella, is dead, and Bella jetting across the ocean to save Edward before he can commit vampire harakiri. Next thing you know, they're in front of some sort of Ultimate Vampire Tribal Council, with Michael Sheen taking a break from playing Tony Blair to ham it up as the King of All Vampires. It's deliciously campy stuff. But then we're back in the soft-focus woods, with Edward glistening and Bella pining for him. If nothing else, turn this girl into vampire so she can pick up some interesting personality traits.
Kristen Stewart has done some fine work in her young but busy career. (Check out her work in the criminally underappreciated "Adventureland," now available on DVD.) I realize Bella isn't supposed to be the most dynamic girl in the universe or even in fourth period chemistry, but as played by Stewart, she's such a bundle of bland that you wonder why these supernatural creatures are so crazed about her. As for Pattinson, who knows if he can act. In these movies, his performance is about 60 percent hair, 20 percent face and 20 percent monotone line readings. The fringe characters, including members of the Cullen family, the bloodthirsty Victoria and Dakota Fanning (!) as a nasty little child vampire, are more intriguing than the leads.
Perhaps for Spring Break, the "Twilight" kids can take a trip to Bon Temps, La., Edward can down a few pints of True Blood and get tips on courtship from Vampire Bill, Jacob can hang out with the shape-shifters---and Bella can find a mentor in Sookie Stackhouse, who can show her a few things about how to get knee deep in the vampire world, grown-up style.
If you're going to run with vampires and wolves, you might as well commit to it all the way.