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The first behind-the-scenes reports of the sequel to the highly successful Twilight bore news of the shocking replacement of Catherine Hardwicke, the cast-and-crew-adored director of the original film.  Hardwicke’s innate rapport with the emotion-drenched world of Stephanie Meyer’s characters only added to the campy terribleness of the first film, but made it a keepsake for fans of the books, who piled into the theatres over and over again.  Chris Weitz, who previously helmed the adaptation of Phillip Pullman’s The Golden Compass – a huge box office failure - seemed an odd and sudden replacement.  Perhaps it was believed Weitz would have more of a handle on this chapter, which is allegedly more action-packed than the previous installment; yet Weitz creates a film so dull, poorly crafted and unengaging that it makes the original film, Twilight (reviewed here), look like an rip-roaring Indiana Jones adventure by comparison.

Once again everything is about Bella Swan, ordinary teenager living with her divorced dad in the Pacific Northwest.  Totally assured that everyone in the world has already seen Twilight, New Moon gives precious little lip service to the original film, opening with Bella’s subconscious fears of what her life loving forever young vampire Edward will be. Age is a reality Bella’s got to face that her luvah doesn’t.  While Edward will go through eternity always a hunky high-schooler, Bella envisions herself as a grandma, giving a whole new twist to the “May-December” romance.  Bella uses her fears to put pressure on her unwilling boyfriend to turn her into the living dead, so they can both be young, beautiful and in love into the ever after.  Edward, being a deeply moral sort of bloodsucker, refuses for fear of Bella’s immortal soul because apparently being a vampire - willingly or not - is a straight train ride to H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks.  Some vague reminders of various past dangers facing Bella due to her proximity to the Cullen vampire family, as well as incidental danger from within that happy home convince Edward to do what he should have way back in movie one; keep away from the girl.  His break up with Bella sends the teen into paroxysms of despair on a level with Linda Blair in the Exorcist.  So desperate is Bella to see her long-gone bloodsucker that she begins to hallucinate images of him as she finds herself in perilous scrape after scrape, convincing her that putting herself in harm’s way will afford her at least the sight of Edward.  As broken up as she is over her break-up, Bella isn’t such a basket case she loses her eyesight and that’s where newly hunky childhood friend Jacob comes in.  Downright scrawny in Twilight, New Moon’s Jacob has been hitting the supplements and Soloflex hardcore.  Biceps, abs and glutes threaten to burst out of the young man’s clothes as he encircles muscular arms around the now less-lonely Bella.  Unfortunately for Bella, she seems to have merely traded one cute boy with a secret for another.

He’s over it, y’all.  Robert Pattinson is so done with playing über-sensitive vampire dream boy, Edward Cullen it reeks off the screen like a fresh paper cut to the undead (-violently demonstrated early in the film).  He’s not helped by a script that has Pattinson appearing through most of the film as a disembodied vapor head, playing Jiminy Cricket to the calamity-seeking Bella.  Rarely have I seen a director require less of his cast than Chris Weitz in New Moon.  Besides Pattinson’s palpable malaise, Kristen Stewart once again mystifies us all as to how actors get chosen to find work.  The permanently glassy look in Stewart’s eyes is that of someone under sedation and her every line is said in the same near-mumble as the last film.  Subtitles would’ve been most helpful during the quieter scenes between herself and Pattinson.  The only other emotion she seems capable of conjuring is unconvincing screechy panic after Edward is gone.  I have to wonder if half the problem with Bella is the script, because she’s just written totally and completely without any discernable charm.  Teenager or not, Bella’s a jerk.  The whole world’s madly in love with her for no clear reason; even rough and tumble bikers merely want to take her for a carefree joyride on the back of their hogs, as opposed to dragging the nubile teen into a back alley, violently raping her and dumping her by the side of a road.  Bella’s friendship is so invaluable that even though she’d basically abandoned her school chums to spend every spare moment with Edward and her isolating grand sulk after his departure; they welcome her back with open arms.  I have yet to understand what she’s ever done for them or anyone else in the film except be a co-dependent walking target.  Even when an old family friend dies, Bella doesn’t so much as lift a well-groomed eyebrow in mourning.  I know the maxim about teenagers being self-centered, but Bella verges on the sociopathic.  She simply doesn’t care about the consequences of any of her actions on anyone else.  This is bad enough in a character you’re supposed to feel sympathy for, but with the tiny exception of one schoolmate letting Bella know her distance wasn’t appreciated when her friends might actually have troubles too, no one says boo to Bella.  Quite contraire, so much dialog is spent with various acolytes telling her how loved and special she is and how they’ll even die for her, you definitely feel you’re missing something with this terrible heroine.  That said, I guess Kristen Stewart’s unspecial acting her suits the character perfectly. 

In the all-is-not-lost department, Taylor Lautner does credit to his portrayal of Jacob; capturing the dual nature of the friend who yearns to be more to Bella, the boy being dragged into an early adulthood, and the little something extra that divides his soul.  Lautner’s teenage angst seems age appropriate and nicely tempered, giving the finest performance of the three leads. 

Not the fabulous hair show that amused me so in the last go round (- Pattinson’s do actually seems washed out and dirty and his handsome face is photographed distorted and flat at times.), New Moon is not without its campy charms, though way too few and far between.  The dialog is once again cheesetastic; full of cringeworthy declarations of true love forever.  This chapter introduces the werewolves (- Because for some reason, you can’t have vamps without werewolves), and the split-second transformation with bits of meat flying where the wolf’s human form once stood was pretty neat.  An all-too-brief battle between the graceful, deadly bloodsucker Victoria and the wolf pack was one of the three highlights of the film.  Another was the inclusion the Volturi clan, who stand as vamp lawgivers and executioners and the excellent Michael Sheen as one of the heads of the coven.  Sheen chews the scenery (- and hopefully a sizeable paycheck), mincing about in brocades, unctuous smiles and a heck of a weave.  Less Vampire, more Campire.  Also part of the scary, undead crew is the young, powerful Jane, creepily played by Dakota Fanning, looking fetching in slightly oversized red contacts.  Sadly, neither are around long enough to really perk up the previous two hours before they show up.  The last highlight is all about beefcake.  The amount of well-cut male torsos in New Moon could fill a museum, and I, for one, am grateful.  It served to keep my eyes open as I started to nod off from the flatline of the script, when every ten minutes one or many of the actors would strip off his shirt and jolt me awake again.  Good job knowing your audience, Mr. Weitz.

Is it any better than the first one? Yes and no.  While it’s got its fill of unintentional comedy (- and almost none that is intentional) New Moon is not quite as laughable as Twilight and that’s not necessarily a plus.  I was almost looking forward to the humourous aspect of New Moon, because with Twilight, good, ill or indifferent, at least it kept me amused.  With this film there are no such advantages; there’s not enough of anything, not enough action to keep things thrilling, not enough romance for the girls to swoon to (- Thank goodness for those missing shirts), no cleverness anywhere in the production, but a truckload of time.  There is absolutely no reason for this film to be over two hours long and each of those minutes (- when anyone’s wearing a shirt) is a dragging trial.  I would have expected this latest chapter of the vampire movie based on a massively popular series of teenager’s romance novels to be many things; overwrought, precious, histrionic, but one thing New Moon should never have been was slapdash and screamingly dull.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

November 18th, 2009

 

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