The Twilight Saga: New Moon

‘New Moon’ pales in comparison to ‘Twilight’

By Ty Burr
Globe Staff / November 19, 2009

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Sorry, girls: The thrill is gone.

“The Twilight Saga: New Moon,’’ the second installment in Hollywood’s adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s mega-selling vampire romance series, is an anemic comedown after the full-blooded swoon of last year’s “Twilight.’’ Where the first film’s director, Catherine Hardwicke, plugged into Meyer’s vision of supernatural teenage lust with abandon, Chris Weitz is stuck with a sequel that’s a morning-after mope-fest.

The new movie has two things going for it: a relaxed and likable Taylor Lautner as Jacob Black, the newly buff Native American kid with a hairy secret and a crush on Bella (Kristen Stewart), and a wicked sense of humor about the story’s sexual subtext that doesn’t surface often enough.

In most other respects, the movie’s a drag - paced like a dirge and cursed with dialogue and a goopy musical score (Alexandre Desplat, how could you?) that bring out the book’s worst daytime soap tendencies. But what can you expect from an installment that keeps the central duo of human Bella and vampire Edward (Robert Pattinson) apart for an extended 500-page sulk? Even my impromptu focus group (two adolescent daughters and one friend) voted “New Moon’’ the least involving of the four books.

In the film, Edward leaves Bella after a birthday party goes horribly wrong - funny what a little paper cut can do to a room full of vampires. Stewart’s an actress of narrow abilities, to put it kindly, but in “Twilight,’’ she worked beautifully within her limits, lighting up with newly discovered love. In “New Moon,’’ she’s playing a spurned and devastated woman, and Stewart just doesn’t have the skill set to do much more than stare woodenly into the middle distance.

Just when you’re about to give up on her, Lautner’s Jacob appears on the scene, helping Bella rebuild a junkyard motorcycle. (Why? So she can drive recklessly and somehow make the spirit of Edward appear to her. Trust me, kids, this does not work in real life.)

The raging hype around “New Moon’’ has divided the planet between Team Edward and Team Jacob, and everyone’s forced to take sides. On the basis of the movie itself, it’s not much of a contest. When he’s onscreen, Pattinson’s Edward is all emo posturing under a trembling bouffant - the actor suddenly seems to be embarrassed to be here. Lautner’s performance, by contrast, has the warmth of an actual human. (And, yes, when he takes off his shirt to aide the wounded Bella, the crowd goes nuts.)

All right, there’s that little matter of Jacob being a werewolf - oops, did I spill the beans? This is taking the old Betty-and-Veronica dichotomy to new levels, and when “New Moon’’ breaks out the special effects, placing a frazzled Bella between wolfmen to the left of her and bloodsuckers to the right, the movie rouses itself to an enjoyable lunacy.

Other cast members lift the movie’s pulse above the standing level. Michael Sheen takes a break from playing historical figures like David Frost and Tony Blair and gets to overact shamelessly as Aro, the head of the vampire council known as the Volturi. Better yet, there’s Dakota Fanning, God bless her, showing Stewart how it’s done in one nifty scene as a vampirette with sadistic mental powers and old-school movie presence.

Anna Kendrick also walks away with her one scene as Bella’s tart high school pal, Jessica. (It’s a thankless role but no one will remember after the George Clooney drama “Up in the Air’’ comes out in a few weeks and Kendrick picks up a supporting actress Oscar nomination. You heard it here first.) Too bad the humans get short shrift in “New Moon,’’ taking a back seat to overcooked vampire-fu and supernatural Hatfield-vs-McCoy booshwah.

The “Twilight’’ books are all about sex, of course - about wanting it but not having it, and about the tension that comes steaming up from the cracks between. About boys who can ravage you but insist on protecting you from the beast within, even when you don’t want them to. About chastity and its discontents. Hardwicke got that; the first movie was about a shy nobody ennobled by a lust that dared not speak its name.

In “New Moon,’’ the stakes are both more obvious and sneakier. Bella wants to be bitten so badly, and why shouldn’t she when female vampires like Alice Cullen (Ashley Greene) and villainous Victoria (Rachelle Lefevre) are such self-confident hotties? Poor girl - when she gets on an airplane to rescue her lover, she’s stuck riding Virgin Air.

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