You want your first crush to last" could have been the theme song for Twilight, the movie version of Stephenie Meyer's mammoth best-seller about a high school junior, Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), who moves from her mother's place in arid Phoenix to her dad's place in the dank, small town of Forks, Wash., where she is smitten with her biology desk-mate, Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson). He's part of a clan of gorgeous, super-pallid high-schoolers adopted by the town's respected, super-pallid physician, Dr. Carlisle Cullen (Peter Facinelli).
Edward and the rest of the Cullens may be mysterious to Bella, but he's transparent to the audience (and to the local Indians, who know the family's secret). With his wax complexion, "special diet" and, most of all, his nonstop intensity - even a clueless good guy says Edward looks at Bella "like he wants to eat you" - he's sure to be voted Most Likely To Be a Vampire in the high school yearbook.
Part of the fun of watching the movie with a theater full of Meyer's fans is hearing them hum with pleasure at director Catherine Hardwicke and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg's shorthand version of the long, prosaic novel. For 15 or 20 minutes, it's fun to see Stewart and Pattinson communicate in a kind of facial semaphore, through flutters and glares. Her intelligence lights up features that are equally pretty and skeptical; Pattinson takes being misunderstood to new neurasthenic heights.
Although the movie loses its snap as it goes on, Edward and Bella provide something for adolescent girls to long for. Their love is immediate and absolute and at the same time not to be consummated - unless Edward decides to let himself go wild and drink her blood. And that's not likely to happen, because the Cullens are good vampires who've funneled their batlike impulses into hunting wild animals and draining their blood and protecting humans rather than ravaging them.
The movie wrings a modicum of suspense from the ominous presence of a rival pack of traditional murderous vampires who are eating their way closer to Forks. But this flesh-biter of a movie never turns into a nail-biter. Even when Edward puts on a show of vampire super-powers, such as super-strength and super-speed and an ability to disperse potential rapists with a potent stare, the emphasis is on swooning, not thrills. Edward races up a mountain with Bella on his back; once over the cloud bank, exposed in the sun, he reveals his true, glittering, diamondlike skin. It's today's high-school-girl equivalent of Christopher Reeve's Superman taking to the air with Lois Lane in his arms: Edward's otherworldliness both makes the fans faint with pleasure, and relieves them of any "fear of flying" in the erotic, Erica Jong sense.
Hardwicke and company put a significant amount of care into casting and costuming and the look of the film. But the core of it is oddly static - it's all about Bella wanting Edward to give more to her than he thinks he can give. This is the High School Musical of vampire films, except it doesn't come through in the big numbers the way High School Musical does. The final showdown between Edward and his evil counterpart, James (Cam Gigandet), proves to be a letdown, poorly staged and edited. I don't think the film ever explains a climactic moment of jeopardy for Bella's mom (the book makes clear it's part of James' dirty-trickery), but I may have nodded off for a minute.
Throughout, the background interplay of freaks and geeks ekes out a comedic counterpoint of "normal" courtship rites as well as friendship. Both the regular guys and gals and the Cullens have their share of appealing young faces. Anne Kendrick boasts a sweet, bouncy presence as Bella's cafeteria pal Jessica, and Ashley Greene is a pert knockout as a virtuous, take-charge vampire woman named Alice.
But the movie is mainly geared to putting new twists on what John Hughes comedies used to call "sucking face." It will satisfy Meyer's devotees. It may even leave neophyte teenage fans yearning to know whether Edward will ever give in to Bella and turn their Romeo and Juliet story - in an up-with-people sort of way, of course - into Romeo and Ghouliet.
(Summit Entertainment) Starring Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson. Directed by Catherine Hardwicke. Rated PG-13 for some violence and a scene of sensuality. Time 121 minutes.