Film Review: Twilight

Pitched squarely down the middle at its target tween-age audience, 'Twilight' is sure to be an enormous box-office success. But that doesn't change the fact that this vampire romance is a lumbering bore.

Superhero flicks may have topped 2008's box-office charts, but the year's real success story is the rise of tweens as a major moviegoing force. This audience proved their buying power in February, rocketing the Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds concert film to an impressive $31 million opening weekend. They turned out in even bigger numbers for last month's High School Musical 3: Senior Year, which is well on its way to banking $100 million. And now here comes Twilight, the first entry in a planned franchise based on Stephenie Meyer's wildly popular series of gothic-lite romance novels for the under-15 set. Like the books, the movie chronicles the passionate but oh-so-chaste love affair between an ordinary human girl with the improbable name of Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and a chivalrous stud-muffin named Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), who—OMG you guys!!!—happens to be a vampire.

But good ol' Eddie isn't one of those vamps with pointy fangs and messy eating habits. No, he and his clan, which includes two "parents" and a litter of brothers and sisters, have learned how to control their bloodlust, living off animals instead of humans. (Meyer's vampires differ from the standard-issue model in a number of other significant ways as well; not only do they lack the pointy teeth and shape-shifting powers, but they also don't have an aversion to garlic or crucifixes. They can even go outside in the daytime and if they step into the sunlight, they don't burn up, but glitter resplendently, as if they've taken a bath in sparkle paint.)

Still, resisting the urge to sink one's teeth into a pretty white neck is a difficult proposition for any vampire, particularly when said neck belongs to a beauty like Bella, who has recently moved to the small town of Forks, Washington, to live with her divorced father. At first, Edward keeps his distance from the new girl, but soon realizes theirs is an attraction that cannot be denied and gives into his feelings—though not his libido, as that might cause him to lose control of his vampire urges, dontcha know. For her part, Bella is won over by Edward's numerous and impassioned professions of literally undying love, to say nothing of his dreamy eyes and chiseled features. It also helps that her sensitive emo-vampire boyfriend isn't above kicking a little butt to save his soulmate, particularly when she's menaced by a rival vamp (Cam Gigandet) who doesn't subscribe to the Cullens' trademarked "animals-only" blood diet.

Many theories have already been advanced to explain why Meyer's novels have struck a chord with young readers, but, as is often the case, the simplest explanation is also the most logical: Tweens flip for cheesy love stories and Twilight is as cheesy as they come. Too bad it's also—if I may indulge in some tween-age hyperbole for a moment—the most boring movie ever made. Glacially paced, awkwardly written and blandly performed by what appears to be a cast of well-preserved zombies, the film version of Twilight does little to show to the uninitiated why this franchise is worth taking seriously.

Lest you think these are just the words of another cranky curmudgeon fed up with the antics of "these kids today," rest assured that I'm often a sucker for overwrought romantic melodrama. Bollywood musicals? Love ’em. High-school soap operas? Pass the "Dawson's Creek" DVDs. Baz Luhrmann's Australia? Lots of fun. For these kinds of grand, swoon-inducing love stories to succeed, though, you've got to have several elements that are noticeably absent from Twilight, including a number of juicy dramatic conflicts and a willingness to be intentionally ridiculous at times. Above all, there has to be a charismatic couple at the center of the movie that genuinely appears to have the hots for each other. While Stewart and Pattinson are both attractive, likeable actors, they're stymied by a screenplay that only gives them two emotions to play: sullen and confused. You don't root for these two mopey teenagers to fall in love—you root for them to crack a smile at least once before the movie ends.

Of course, none of these complaints will matter one iota to Twilight's devoted fanbase, who, to be perfectly honest, would probably have been completely satisfied if the film just consisted of a shirtless Pattinson reading the book aloud for two hours. Virtually every sentence that the actor uttered was met with cheers and applause by a very vocal (and noticeably young) segment of the audience at the screening I attended. Even the cut-rate special effects and Catherine Hardwicke's sloppy direction—keeping track of the continuity errors and poorly framed shots is one surefire way of staying awake for the duration of the movie's excessive 121-minute runtime—couldn't put a dent in their enthusiasm at seeing Edward (and to a lesser extent, Bella) brought to life onscreen. And ultimately, these are the only viewers a movie version of Twilight had to satisfy; the rest of us are just visitors passing through a world that hasn't been designed with us in mind.