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Twilight Saga, The: New Moon

Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 11/27/09 23:51:09

"Bland Boys & Mope-Eds"
1 stars (Sucks)

At two different points during “New Moon,” the second installment of the immensely and inexplicably popular “Twilight” franchise from author Stephenie Meyer, the story takes time out to make fun of the clichés and conventions of other types of films--one character goes off on a rant about how contemporary zombie movies are too self-consciously symbolic for their own good and later on, a bunch of people go off to see an idiotic and wildly violent action epic by the name of “Face Punch.” Unfortunately, whatever ironic commentary the filmmakers might have hoped to have made about the artistic failings of those genres is somewhat subdued by the fact that they have completely failed in the handling of their own generic conventions. Whether one looks at it as a vampire extravaganza, a swoony teen romance or as a crass attempt to quickly milk a worldwide fad for every possible dollar before its popularity begins to wane, the film is an epic fail on virtually every level. Watching it is like staring at one of its promo T-shirts for 130 minutes--in both cases, the people on display are pretty enough but after a few minutes, their one-dimensional natures and the fact that they don’t actually do much of anything will quickly grow wearying for anyone looking for more than eye candy for unimaginative 14-year-old girls.

Picking up where “Twilight” left off (with no recap to speak, presumably because those who saw the first one know it by heart and those who didn’t probably wouldn’t be turning out in droves this time around), “New Moon” starts of with Bella Swan (Kristin Stewart) facing her 18th birthday all glum and depressed that she is growing older while beloved vampire boyfriend Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) will remain young and handsome and sparkly-in-the-sunshine forever. (Bella, it should be noted, is a bit of a drama queen.) Things get worse when she celebrates her birthday with Edward’s family and suffers a ginormous paper cut that makes her the center of attention for all the wrong reasons and the topper comes when Edward announces that since she will always be at risk as long as he and his family are around, they are going to leave town for good in order to ensure her safety. Bella is crushed and spends the next few months (signified by arguably the most unintentionally hilarious moment in a film chock-full of them), weeping herself to sleep, trembling like a withdrawing heroin addict and acting even more anti-social than usual until she begins spending more and more quality time with Jake (Taylor Lautner), her newly buff and often shirtless best pal who, it turns out, is also a werewolf (though easily the least threatening one to appear on the big screen since Jason Bateman suited up for “Teen Wolf Too“). At the same time, however, Bella discovers that visions of Edward appear to her when she finds herself in dangerous situations and she becomes an adrenaline junkie so as to get glimpses of her lost love. Unfortunately for her, one of her stupid stunts leads Edward to believe that she has died and he is so torn up that he decides to go to vampire headquarters in Italy to goad the ghouls in charge (including Michael Sheen, who has apparently decided to worm his way into every franchise featuring romantic conflicts between werewolves and vampires, and Dakota Fanning) into killing him by making a spectacle for himself by displaying himself in all his sparkly vampire glory to all the tourists in the area unless she can get there in the ta-daa nick of time.

Look, I get that I am about as far from the desired demographic for the “Twilight” saga as one can possibly be and that whatever charm it possesses for its fans is utterly lost on me. I am perfectly willing to concede this point but what I fail to understand is, based on the evidence seen here, why the large and fanatical audience that is has developed would want to associate themselves with something as utterly dreadful as this. Do they actually admire a central character like Bella, a whiny mope who apparently can’t function in the world unless she has herself a fella? Do they actually find Edward to be a compelling and fascinating romantic foil even though it seems that he has managed to live for more than 100 years without developing anything resembling a personality. Do they actually find some trace of romantic chemistry between Bella and either one of the non-threatening boys that she finds herself flirting with in the most passive-aggressive manner and without any evident curiosity about their supernatural natures? Do they actually enjoy the maddening story construct that, much like the previous film, finds the characters more or less treading narrative water for more than 90 minutes before any actual drama kicks in, only to have it all more or less resolved in about 15 minutes or so? When it comes to most pop-culture phenomena, I can at least usually understand why it connects with its fans even if I don’t share the same fascination but in the case of “New Moon,” I am completely flummoxed. (It can’t just be because of the handsome boys at its center, can it?) If you can honestly answer “yes” to any of the above questions and explain why without resorting to name-calling or threats on my life, please drop me a line because I am keen to understand why any self-respecting person would choose to align themselves with gibberish of this magnitude.

When “New Moon” was rushed into production last year after “Twilight” proved to be as popular on the big screen as on the printed page, there was a little bit of controversy when Catherine Hardwicke, who directed the original, was let go from the project and replaced by Chris Weitz, whose previous effort was the fantasy flop “The Golden Compass.” Based on the end result, most people will wonder why they bothered to make the switch since there is virtually no difference in the two directorial styles--like Hardwicke, Weitz seems so frightened of potentially alienating the fan base by imposing any sort of distinct directorial personality to the proceedings that the entire thing quickly becomes as much of a bore in cinematic terms as it is from a narrative standpoint. Then again, it could simply be the fact that the story, once again adapted by Melissa Rosenberg, is such a lugubrious lump of unplayable scenes and unspeakable dialogue that not even the finest and most distinctive filmmakers working today could make much of it. It certainly seems to have taken its toll on much of the rest of the creative team. For example, Kristen Stewart is an excellent young actress (check her out in “Adventureland” if you doubt me) but you certainly wouldn’t glean that from her work here--her performance is so lumpy and listless that it feel as if she was whacked upside the head with a two-by-four before every take. As for the guys, Pattinson is so limp and listless throughout that he seems in more need of a flu shot than a taste of blood. while Lautner literally lets his pecs do the talking throughout in the chestiest performance to hit the screen since Gerard Butler bounced around in “300.” Even the special effects, which you would have assumed might have improved from the dreadful examples in the first film thanks to the increased budget, are spectacularly awful--the glittery skin effect is as laughable as ever, the brief fight scenes are complete messes and the CGI werewolves are so incompetently rendered that it seems as if the producers tried to farm the work out to makeup artist extraordinaire Rick Baker but wound up inadvertently hiring Carroll Baker instead.

“New Moon” is a terrible, terrible movie that is essentially “Transformers 2” for the training bra set with pseudo-soulful glances from bare-chested boys substituting for giant robots blowing things up. However, I will admit in all fairness that there are a couple of things about it that briefly amused me long enough to keep me from smacking my head against the theater wall. Once again, I enjoyed the supporting performance by Ashley Greene as Alice, Edward’s fun and flighty sister--since she provides the only real energy that the film has to speak of and has the closest thing to a personality of all the characters, I keep wishing that the story would just dumb the central lumps and follow her around instead. I was amused by the presence of Anna Kendrick in the small role of one of Bella’s human friends--less because of what she is given to do (which is practically nothing) and more because she also appears in the upcoming “Up in the Air” and now know for a fact that within the space of a couple of weeks, people will be able to see her in one of the best films of 2009 and one of the worst. Finally, while I am not entirely certain that I will have been able to gird my loins sufficiently in preparation for the next “Twilight” movie (which is coming out next summer according to the poster in the lobby, easily the scariest part of this particular moviegoing experience), I can assure you that if anyone ever actually gets around to making “Face Punch,” I am so there for that when it opens.

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