The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (PG-13)
Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Cinemark 16 IMAX, Hollywood Interquest, Tinseltown
The Twilight producers keep trying; you've got to give them that. For 2008's Twilight, they hired Catherine Hardwicke (thirteen) to direct, suggesting they were aiming for edgy teen drama. Then they signed Chris Weitz (The Golden Compass) for 2009's New Moon, suggesting an epic action vibe. Now they've got David Slade (30 Days of Night) for The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, bringing a background in horror. They keep tinkering, looking for a fix.
Yet the truth is, the movies are stuck with Stephenie Meyer's books as a foundation. And later directors are stuck with earlier casting decisions. So they can keep changing the curtains and painting the walls, but they're living in a balsa wood house.
For the uninitiated, we join Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) on the verge of graduating from high school and fulfilling her pledge to be "turned" by Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) into a vampire herself. But there are distractions. Reports from nearby Seattle suggest that a vampire army is forming, possibly guided by rival vampire Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard). And then there's Bella's werewolf pal Jacob (Taylor Lautner), who's not prepared to give up his feelings for Bella despite her connection with Edward.
That romantic triangle is the cornerstone of the series' Team Edward-vs.-Team Jacob appeal, and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg gives it plenty of attention.
The big moments are pitched at the core fans — Edward's proposal to Bella, Bella and Jacob's first romantic moment, a tense truce between Edward and Jacob — and they do the job. Whatever else one might think about Meyer's writing, she clearly taps into something primally heart-fluttering.
Yet this is also fundamentally an adolescent melodrama, and melodrama is hard for even the best actors in the best circumstances. Neither is the case here — except for Billy Burke's appealing work as Bella's dad, roles are not packed with subtle, refined talent. Stewart's readings are annoyingly one-note, and Pattinson continues to mistake raspy muttering for sultriness. Lautner brought a welcome energy to New Moon, but he's awfully young for the heartfelt speeches he's asked to deliver here. And those are restrained compared to over-the-top stuff like Dakota Fanning's icy, sneering Volturi Jane, or Peter Facinelli's tight-lipped, eyebrow-furrowing Carlisle Cullen.
But Eclipse truly tips into unintentional hilarity during a series of flashbacks. A colonial-era conflict between vampires and werewolves, and the "origins" of Cullen clan members Jasper (Jackson Rathbone) and Rosalie (Nikki Reed), show the series at its most absurdly florid — and here Slade's selection makes little sense. There may be a few vampire attacks and one grand 15-minute battle royale, but nothing remotely horror-focused about Twilight's mythological beasts. You might be able to take away Meyer's purple prose, but not her vision of a chaste gothic bodice-ripper crossed with young-adult angst.
For next year's final installment, Breaking Dawn, Bill Condon (Dreamgirls) has already been selected to direct. Maybe this time they'll look to improve things by turning the saga into a musical.
At this point, anything is worth a try.