The adaptation of the red-hot teen novel is high on atmosphere and sex appeal, yet strangely bloodless.
They stalk you by night, mesmerize you, and they have an unquenchable desire to exchange bodily fluids. Let's face it, vampires are inherently sexy creatures. And the teenage pin-ups roaming the halls of Forks High School, ivory-skinned sanguivores who use dramatic amounts of hair product, are the hottest cold-bloods around. Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) goes into a trance state whenever she sees Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson). No hypnotic gestures required.
Unless you live under a rock which is itself under a larger rock, you know that Bella and Edward are the main characters in "Twilight," a bestselling young-adult vampire novel by Stephenie Meyer, and now a film. Regular girl Bella, a new arrival in eternally overcast Forks, Wash., is instantly smitten with Edward, an aloof, smoldering hunk assigned as her biology lab partner. Bella's biology is in an uproar, since she's at the age when adolescents are vulnerable to the life-altering drama of a first love that is way too completely special and perfect for anyone else on Earth to possibly comprehend.
Edward is perfect, plus he is sensitive to the point of melancholy and has an eating disorder, which makes him even more perfect. And his ability to rescue Bella from a careening van with superhuman strength? OH EM GEE!
Edward is such a total package that Bella remains hooked even when she learns that he's a daywalking vampire. His family isn't from the Vlad the Impaler/Erzebet Bathory bloodline, though. They're vegetarian vamps, pledged to feed on animal blood. It's not as tasty as human hemoglobin; Edward likens animal plasma to tofu. Still, the Cullens pride themselves in keeping their urges in check, working off their excess energy with wholesome pastimes like vampire baseball. Thus Edward's very un-teenage-boy-like sexual restraint, and the fact that relations between him and Bella are restricted to lots of steamy glances and a bit of (non-penetrative) necking. The excitement of this PG-13 tale mostly concerns the eroticism of abstinence. At least until the last reel, when a villainous vampire trio gets a sniff of the succulent Bella and the rival bloodsuckers go all Wing Chun on each other.
Director Catherine Hardwicke ("Thirteen," "The Lords of Dogtown") leads her young cast through the story's soap opera elements with honest respect for the material. The look of the film is naturalistic, and the performances are earnest, if a bit overwrought. Stewart doesn't blink her enormous eyes or smile as Bella, but her unswerving seriousness puts us on her side. The girl deserves some fun, especially living with her well-meaning but wooden single dad, Forks' top cop. Billy Burke is deadpan perfection as Chief Charlie Swan. He's clearly consumed by post-divorce loneliness but can't show it, and comically out of his depth trying to fathom the strange teenage female sharing his house. I'm ill-suited to judge Pattinson's portrayal of Edward, but the low female moans that rolled through the preview audience as his lips brushed Stewart's neck tell me he's right on target.
Two sequels to "Twilight" are already in the works, and with luck the all-but-guaranteed success of the first installment means bigger budgets for the follow-ups. Special-effects sequences of the vampires moving at super speed or leaping high in the air have the cheeseball quality of entry-level Kung Fu flicks. There are plenty of intentional jokes in "Twilight." We shouldn't be tempted to laugh at the big, dramatic finish.
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186