Movie review: Fans will sink their teeth into ‘New Moon’

Dana Barbuto

"The Twilight Saga: New Moon,” the second installment in the teen romance vampire series, is full of angst, cheese and shirt doffing. It’s just what the Twi-hards want.

The giddy “oohs” and “aahs” started as the lights dimmed. But two scenes in particular created a frenzy among the mostly female audience. The first had Jacob (Taylor Lautner) trying to teach the intricacies of dirt bike riding to Bella (Kristin Stewart), who only sees visions of her ex, the gorgeous vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), who has just dumped her.

She crashes. Jacob rips off his T-shirt and uses it to wipe the blood from her face. And the shirt stays off for the duration, providing Lautner an opportunity to flaunt his well-toned physic – he famously gained more than 20 pounds of muscle for the role – and to fit in with the pack of topless werewolves he runs with.

Later, the flesh peddling continues when Bella – sprinting breathlessly through a piazza in Italy to prevent Edward from exposing himself as a vampire – finds him exposing his chest instead.

Catching a theme?

“New Moon” has nothing much to offer for non-Twilighters, but it’s got an excess of eye candy. And Chris Weitz, directing part two of Stephenie Meyer’s best-selling series, shows no shame in displaying the six-pack abs and barrel chests of his young actors.

The gimmick almost makes you forget that Pattinson isn’t really in the movie that much. (Gasp!) His absence hurts the film, as the chemistry between Stewart and Pattinson (rumored to be dating in real-life) is superior to that between her and Lautner. He’s likable, but there’s just no spark – no matter how bulging his exposed biceps.

Borrowing from “Romeo and Juliet,” which is shown, mentioned and quoted, “New Moon” is also a forbidden love story. Pattinson and Stewart reprise their roles, respectively, of a tormented vampire and the shy, pouty schoolgirl with a thing for the undead. Circumstances force Edward to cut ties with Bella to protect her. He flees to Italy, and Bella seeks comfort in the arms of her close friend, Jacob. An old-fashioned love triangle ensues.

The first “Twilight” made nearly $70 million in its opening weekend, and this is expected to take a bigger bite. So critic-proof is this film that it’s hard to analyze from a non-Twilighter perspective, which, frankly, is irrelevant. It’s not made for them. It’s for the legions of females who find the books and movies irresistible. They identify with Bella, especially after she loses her first love and collapses into the sort of hysterical depression that could only befall a teenage girl. You’re always inside her head because it’s a first-person narrative.

With Edward gone, Bella discovers that if she does reckless things, like ride motorcycles or jump off cliffs, she can see visions of him. However, these apparitions are hardly a substitute for the real thing. Bottom line is the film needs Pattinson and his vampire family, the Cullens, especially Jasper (Jackson Rathbone), who is overwhelmed with temptation to drink Bella’s blood, and her gal-pal confidante, Alice (a fun and frivolous Ashley Greene).

What’s also missing is the campy feel that director Catherine Hardwicke brought to the first “Twilight.” In her hands all this lusty teen anguish was palatable; now it’s just lame. I’ve always been a fan of teenagers acting like they are 30. But these kids are so maudlin you can’t help but laugh aloud.

Last time, I praised Anna Kendrick (a serious Oscar contender in the upcoming “Up in the Air”) as Bella’s sassy friend. She’s back briefly and certainly leaves you wanting more. Same with Dakota Fanning, a new addition to the cast, playing one seriously tough vampiress.

At 130 minutes, the first act took way too long to set up the plot, while Act 2 crawled during the development of Jacob and Bella’s staid romance. The momentum finally builds in Act 3, when the charismatic Cullen clan return to Forks, Wash., from Italy. But it’s too rushed and underdeveloped, especially the confrontation with Jacob. And, the most egregious part is an ending stolen directly from “The Sopranos” school of leave ’em hanging.

At least “Twi-hards” have the comfort of knowing that it’s only seven months until the next chapter, “Eclipse,” hits theaters. I can hardly wait.

THE TWILIGHT SAGA: NEW MOON (PG-13 for some violence and action.) Cast includes Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart, Taylor Lautner and Ashley Greene. Directed by Chris Weitz. 2 stars out of 4.

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