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By Dustin Rowles | Film Reviews | November 25, 2009 | Comments ()


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Is Summit Entertainment, the studio behind the Twilight series, slipping something into Midol? Are teenage girls suddenly tussling their pubic hairs and excreting menstrual glitter? Are those little pills imprinted with Team Jacob or Team Edward on them now? Apparently, Midol Teen Formula relieves cramps, backache, and bloating, while addling the soft brains of our hysterical female youth. The unholy devotion to this franchise can't be explained any other way -- something is seriously affecting the judgment of teenage girls. They've lost their taste for plot, conflict, basic acting ability, or even marginal directing talent. New Moon isn't a movie -- it's an incoherent, clunky, maddeningly bland and fiercely tedious half-chewed bolus of sexual lubricant. It's cinematic Astroglide (Rated PG-13) with no apparent purpose but to shatter hymens, drench theater seats in armpit stench and elicit the ear-bursting squeals and coos of adolescent females with little impulse control and lots of discretionary spending money.

It's too easy, however, to suggest that mind-altering substances are at play here -- it's more than that, it's psychosomatic. There's something about the Twilight movies that seeps through cheap Bella Swan eau de parfum and taps its way into high-school insecurities and adipose and weakens the intellect. Maybe it's peer pressure -- maybe there's a designated Sparkletard bully in every high school who beats the Twilight into them ("Haters don't sparkle, bitch"). I'm not otherwise ready to believe that teenage girls -- and trust me, it's 98 percent tweebags and their mothers -- would so willingly give themselves over to this phenomenon. Not without social pressure, not without some deep-seated psychological manipulation. These girls are driven by something raw and angry and powerful and completely otherworldly (and glittery). I've never witnessed this level of feverish, hormonal passion -- it borders on ecstasy, and there's absolutely nothing on the screen to support it.

It has something to do with the thought of being saved from self-loathing, and the empty promise that every woman -- regardless of her level of traditional beauty -- holds within her a love so powerful that it can bend the true nature of men, and it's just waiting to be tapped by some mystical being who doesn't abide by the rules of this world. It's a weird feminine love-triangle wish-fulfillment fantasy about being fought over by the scrawny, sensitive (and glittering) bad boy and the earnest but temperamental protector with chiseled abs. It's about forbidden love and anticipation and bestial sex, the erotic pull between the sensual vampire and the ravenous werewolf. It's about biting and ripping, fangs and claws, rejection and temptation, and about being the forbidden fruit that's plucked from the tree and fucked seven ways 'til Sunday.

The problem, of course, is that while New Moon subtextually represents all of these things, on the surface, it's nothing more than a very bad movie. It promises a jackhammer drilling into the G-spot, but delivers only drunken dick and halitosis. There are worse movies, of course, but there's never been a chasm so wide between the intensity of devotion to a film and what it actually deserves. The fervor for Twilight is beyond what existed for Titanic eleven years ago, but as loathsome as the James Cameron film was, it's far and away superior to New Moon in every way but for the number of scenes featuring gratuitously shirtless boys.

Foremost, there's barely a story here, and certainly not one that supports a 130-minute runtime. The narrative arc is a straight line that falls off a cliff during the third act. As the movie opens, Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) -- an inaudibly mumbling ball of faux suburban angst and lip-biting tics -- is happy-ish in her relationship with the perpetually expressionless Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), but for her fear that she'll eventually age. Edward is 109, but looks 17, and Bella worries that someday Eddy won't want to bone an exsiccated old lady. What she'd really like is to be turned into an immortal, so that she can live with Edward for an eternity, but Edward ain't all about that -- he loves her too much to damn her soul, so he won't deflower her, which would turn her into a vampire (hasn't he ever heard of anal? That's how teenagers do it in the South when they want to avoid alerting the heavenly father).

Things come to a head when Bella gets a paper cut during her birthday celebration at the Cullens, and one of the family members loses his shit and nearly makes a hemoglobin amuse-bouche out of her. Edward, naturally, fears that it's only a matter of time before one of his family members gives into his instinctual nature or he himself can't resist the temptation to give up his vampire seed. So, illogically and without much explanation, Team Edward relocates to Italy, so he can ask the Vampire Vatican (Michael Sheen) to kill him, leaving Bella to wallow catatonically in her own self-pity.

After a few months of Richard Marx ballads, however, Bella realizes that she can call up visions of Edward and have her own little Cullengasms if she does something dangerous to raise her adrenaline levels, like ride a motorcycle! So, she saves a couple of two-wheelers from a scrap yard and enrolls her best friend Jacob (Taylor Lautner) to the cause. But wait! What's this? She's developing feelings for Jacob -- he helps her to heal "the hole in her soul" that Edward left. But Jacob also has a secret, and that secret is that he doesn't want to get up on in her missionary style -- he wants to were-bone her. Turns out, puberty brings out Jacob's inner lycan, and holy shit, being an actual werewolf is, like, three times better than owning a Three Wolf Moon T-Shirt -- Bella be stuck to him like a corn dog to a stick, setting up the eventual love triangle that fizzles toward inevitability.

The problem, unfortunately, is that besides limp acting and some of the worst dialogue ever written ("You're so warm; you're like your own sun") there's very little real drama. When Bella learns that Jacobs is a werewolf, she accepts it nonchalantly. Two people die in New Moon, and yet there's no emotional response. It's just a series of treacly confessions of devotion: I swear I'll never hurt you; I swear I'll never leave you; I swear I'll protect you. It's two hours of 7th grade love note readings, and it's impossible to tell what the fuss is all about: Bella is morose, self-pitying, solipsistic, and really fucking wearisome; Edward is wooden and seemingly incapable of expression; and Jacob takes a goddamn bath in afterschool special earnestness. Also, his head looks tiny and disproportionate, propped up on that barrel chest and 12-pack of abs.

Indeed, every character in the movie is insufferable, save for two: Dakota Fanning's Jane and Michael Sheen's Aro, who are part of the Italian Volturi clan. Combined, they have less than ten minutes of screen time, but it's easily the best ten minutes of the movie. Fanning, nearly unrecognizable and mostly silent, does more actressin' with her eyes in four minutes than the rest of the cast does for the entire movie. Sheen, likewise, is flat-out magnetic, deliciously creepy, and completely out of place in a movie otherwise devoid of talent.

Chris Weitz, who took the director's chair from Catherine Hardwicke, has no idea what the fuck he's doing, nor does he seem to understand what's supposed to be at play here. His direction is rote and rushed and inert. He completely fails to capture whatever it is that teenage girls love about Twilight (before taking the director's chair, he once confessed a disdain for the series, and it's apparent here). Sloppy and overwrought direction would have been preferably to this -- it's empty, vacuous, and over reliant on Stephenie Meyers' painful dialogue, which is delivered with all the zeal of trophy wife accepting the purchase of her wealthy senior citizen husband.

Twilight was awful, and the whole damsel-in-distress bullshit wore thin about 12 minutes into it, but at least there was something going on -- a salvation fantasy where Bella was plucked from obscurity by a vampire who teased her libido into a wet hot frenzied hormonal mess. There's very little going on in New Moon -- it's a placeholder movie, establishing the conflict between Edward and Jacob, the vampires and the werewolves, and the masculine and the sensitive, but it never really teases it out. It crawls around on all fours, but never pounces. New Moon just kind of lays there, indifferent, blowing on its nails, while the audience does all the work, eventually giving up, rolling over, and falling asleep unsatisfied.



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