Unless you're already a committed Twihard, this New Moon may have you howling -- with unintended laughter. In a broody tale of love among the humans and un-humans, that's not a good thing, but it's better than being bored or confused, which were my two other chief reactions.
And perhaps, too, disappointed. I quite enjoyed the first film in this series, Twilight. I had not read Stephenie Meyer's wildly popular books, but still found the story of teen-age oddball Bella (Kristen Stewart) and her sensitive vampire boyfriend, Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), entertaining. It was even mildly provocative as an extended metaphor for adolescent sexuality.
But unlike Twilight, this second outing is unable to walk that very fine line between silly subject matter and serious delivery, even as it ramps up the dramatic intensity.
In New Moon, directed by Chris Weitz, Bella and Edward still openly pine in their unconsummated relationship. Then Edward says he has to relocate to parts unknown. He gives Bella one last super-soulful look, warns her not to get self-destructive -- and he's gone.
Bella grows even more disconnected -- a cheesy sequence shows her being all sad-and-stuff as the seasons change outside her bedroom window. She relieves her depression by engaging in risky behavior: She's discovered that such recklessness conjures an apparition of her beloved Edward, pleading with her to be careful. (Can a vampire be a ghost?) This kind of twisted, melodramatic material is tricky to convey properly, and it's here that the movie starts skidding toward a wreck.
Compounding the angst is Bella's rebound relationship with a hunky local boy, Jacob (Taylor Lautner). Then he dumps her to run off with other dark-and-stormy hotties (who look as if they've breezed out of a gay bar where the dress code is "ripped jean shorts, only"). But she forgives him when she finds out he's a werewolf. (Has this girl got it bad for the freaks, or what?)
Unfortunately, there's zero chemistry between gloomy Bella and puppyish Jacob. While I suspect Lautner was hired mostly for his ripped chest, New Moon really shows up Stewart's limitations. Her Bella has two settings -- moody and freaked out. That may have worked for her somnambulant affair with Edward, which traded on their matched hyper-sensitivity, but not in this broader story.
The draggy acting and clunky dialogue make it difficult to sell an increasingly mystifying series of events, as well as the supposedly off-the-charts emotions that have each member of this undead-wolf-girl love triangle pleading for death. (Edward's "suicide" involves going before a vampire ethics board known as the Volturi, an overly made-up, brocaded trio who look like they didn't make the cut for Ultravox decades ago and are taking out their pique by biting people.)
The fresh plot developments weren't helped by New Moon's failure to offer a recap. If you've read the books, you'll be fine; if, like me, you saw the first movie a year ago, good luck. No, I don't remember who Victoria is; what Jacob said to Bella on the beach; or what the treaty is between the vamps and wolves. For a movie that's way too long at 130 minutes, surely some of this could have been touched on. Instead, I drifted off on my own New Moon-inspired reveries, such as: Why would a vampire have more hair than a werewolf?