A modern 'Romeo' with bite
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, Nov. 20, 2009
The success of the second film adaptation of author Stephenie Meyer's wildly popular supernatural romance series, "The Twilight Saga: New Moon" has less to do with vampires and werewolves than with zombies.
You know the kind I mean. Not the flesh-eating ones but the ones who have been counting down the hours and minutes to the release of the film. The slack-jawed legions who will stagger into theaters this weekend, clutching their preordered tickets in their outstretched hands, regardless of what they hear about the movie. I could say, for instance, that the movie is little more than your standard love triangle between a handsome, if slightly priggish bloodsucker, a hotblooded lycanthrope and the mortal girl who is caught between them. And that would be true, if a less than accurate assessment of the film's many visceral pleasures. And it would do nothing to dissuade a diehard fan from going to the movie.
To readers like the audience members at a recent screening who squealed the names "Edward!" (the vampire) or "Jacob!" (the werewolf) when asked to call out their favorite supernatural hunk, I say: This review is not for you. For everyone else then: "New Moon" continues the impossible love story between teenager Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), a vampire in the body of a preternaturally pale Ralph Lauren model, almost 100 years her senior. It's bad enough that Edward can't decide whether he wants to kill her or kiss her, but when his adoptive brother Jasper (Jackson Rathbone) almost eats Bella after she suffers a paper cut at her 18th birthday party, Edward decides that the best thing for the woman he loves is to leave her.
Enter Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner). Yeah, I know the character was introduced in the last movie as Bella's shy and slightly awkward childhood best friend. Trust me, this isn't the same guy. When Lautner -- who reportedly put on 30 pounds of muscle for the bulked-up role of someone who has just found out he's a teenage werewolf -- takes off his shirt in the movie, the audience let out something between a gasp and a scream. It was like nothing I have ever heard in any horror movie. The kid's abs are the best special effect in the movie. And that's counting the digital transformation sequences from boy to wolf, which are none too shabby and a distinct improvement over the effects in "Twilight."
Jacob -- who's genial where Edward is moody, easy where Edward is tortured -- mends Bella's broken heart, or tries to. Haunted by vivid visions of her lost lover, especially when she's in jeopardy, Bella begins to deliberately put herself in ever more increasing danger as a way to conjure Edward, if only in her head. When she dives off a cliff, only to be rescued by Jacob, Edward mistakenly believes Bella is dead. He resolves to kill himself the only way a vampire can, by turning himself in to the Volturi, an elite body of European vampires who make vampire rules and execute those who violate them. Which is what Edward plans to do by exposing himself as a vampire to the mortal world.
Sound a little like "Romeo and Juliet," or its spinoff "West Side Story"? It should. At times, the dueling fashion sensibilities of the werewolf pack (who look like they stepped from the pages of an Abercrombie & Fitch catalogue) and Edward's vampire family (who seem to shop at Barneys) are like the Sharks and the Jets, only with better stylists. Look, there's nothing terribly serious or heavy going on in "New Moon," despite a lot of nonsense in the screenplay (written by Melissa Rosenberg and directed by Chris Weitz) about souls and damnation. The performances are uniformly strong, especially by Stewart, who is turning into a fine young actress. Despite melodrama that, at times, is enough to induce diabetes, there's enough wolf whistle in this sexy, scary romp to please anyone.
And not just the zombies.
PG-13. At area theaters. Contains violence and supernatural action sequences. 119 minutes.