Directed by: Chris Weitz (The Golden Compass)
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Billy Burke, Michael Sheen
If further evidence was needed (and it really wasn’t) to support H.L. Mencken’s assertion that “no one ever went broke by underestimating the taste of the American public,” the opening weekend take of $140 million for The Twilight Saga: New Moon is that evidence. The fact that Chris Weitz (who made the wonderful About a Boy and the better-than-its-reputation The Golden Compass) manages to bring some actual style to this second entry in the series might be construed as a plus. Yes, it results in a better made film, but it doesn’t change the fact that the material is dreadful. In fact, it may even make that more obvious. At least Catherine Hardwicke’s direction of Twilight (2008) was as drab as the movie itself, putting the two on an even keel—a very low one, but even.
I’d actually like to believe that Weitz’s approach to the film was to treat it as a bad joke and play up its awfulness in a subversive manner—while collecting a huge paycheck, I’m sure. Perhaps Weitz sees himself here as the Douglas Sirk of teen romance/horror, making fun of the material at hand in the manner Sirk supposedly did with his 1950s soap operas. There’s some evidence to support this. Having Michael Sheen play the big-cheese vampire in the campiest possible tone suggests the possibility, as do the ridiculous movie posters in the theater shown in the film. And then there’s no way I can imagine the Rastafarian vampire (Edi Gathegi) running away from CGI werewolves in fast motion was meant to be taken seriously. (All it needs is “Feet don’t fail me now” on the sound track.)
The problem is that none of this keeps the film from being a tedious morass of emo goo that goes on for 130 seemingly interminable minutes. Even the amusing gay werewolf subtext—with Jake (Taylor Lautner proving that his acting peaked four years ago in The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl) dumping Bella (Kristen Stewart) to be his real werewolf self (“it’s not a lifestyle choice”) by hanging out with a bunch of beefed-up shirtless boys—is only mildly diverting. You’re still left with about 20-minutes worth of story that mostly keeps going by reels and reels of moping from Bella and Edward (Robert Pattinson). To pad this out, the two have more mood swings and changes of heart than the entire cast of Gone With the Wind.
This might work better if either actor had any charisma, or if their attraction to each other made any sense. I guess Bella’s all hot and bothered over Edward because he can walk in “romantic” slow motion whenever he enters a scene. The appeal of this 17-year-old sulk-addict for a guy who’s been around for 109 years is another matter. Perhaps as the hero of Weitz’s About a Boy (2002) claimed of himself, Edward really is that shallow. No matter, the movie assumes we accept their passionate love for each other. But after all, this is a movie that asks us to accept the idea of vampires that sparkle in the sunlight and manage to pass for humans even though covered in white pancake makeup, exhibiting incredible strength and wearing absurdly obvious contact lenses. Oh, yeah, it also exists in a world where no one seems to wonder what this beefy werewolf boy is doing wandering around in a pair of shorts and nothing else in the chilly north woods. (I want to know where he got the shorts after he turned back into human form. Do werewolves have a secret marsupial-like pouch to hold a change of clothing?)
Of course, it matters not one whit what I—or anyone else—has to say about New Moon so far as Twilight fans are concerned. They not only will flock to the damned thing, they’ve already done so and are likely to go for a second dose of prefab swoonery. Complaining about it is futile, but it’s impossible not to wonder how its legions of fans don’t realize how brutally dull and slow it all is—except when it’s unintentionally funny. Then again, you don’t suppose it’s paced this way to allow time for the fans to text each other—“OMG, Edward is so hot”—without losing track of the plot, do you? It could be the latest word in the devolution of movies. Rated PG-13 for some violence and action.