"This is the last time you'll ever see me," Edward Cullen says to Bella Swan. As if.
Spoken early on in "New Moon," that promise is one of the least likely to be kept in movie history. With most of that film still to unfold, and two more adaptations of Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight" series in the works, the next due out as soon as next summer, the world is going to see as much of Kristen Stewart's melancholy Bella and Robert Pattinson's undead Edward as it can take. Maybe more.
In the short term, however, Edward is as good as his word, and "New Moon" suffers as a result. Constrained by the plot of the novel, the film keeps the two lovers apart for quite a spell, robbing the project of the crazy-in-love energy that made "Twilight," the first entry in the series, such a guilty pleasure.
"New Moon," which has been grandly titled "The Twilight Saga: New Moon" in honor of that first film's huge success, marks the franchise's entrance into the self-protective, don't-rock-the-boat phase of its existence, which is a bit of a shame.
In place of "Twilight" director Catherine Hardwicke, a filmmaker of intense, sometimes overwhelming and out-of-control emotionality who seemed to feel these teenage characters in her bones, "New Moon" has gone with the more polished Chris Weitz.
A smooth professional whose credits include such adaptations as "The Golden Compass" and "About a Boy," Weitz makes the vampire trains of Melissa Rosenberg's capable script run on time, but he almost seems too rational a director for this kind of project. This lack of animating madness combined with the novel's demands give much of "New Moon" a marking-time quality.
Yes, I know, the emotional energy of New Moon" is supposed to come through Bella's putative attachment to newly buff best friend Jacob Black ( Taylor Lautner). But though audiences gasp when Jacob uses his shirt to staunch Bella's blood (don't ask) and reveals a torso that would make Charles Atlas swoon, the connection between these two is so self-evidently nonromantic that it turns out not to be much of a diversion.
More interesting is Jacob's discovery that as a member of the fierce Quileute tribe he is prone to turning into an exceptionally large wolf at a moment's notice - a wolf whose main objective in life is to safeguard humans from vampires. In addition to pining for Edward, Bella suddenly finds herself in the middle of age-old and bitter enmities. This is one hard-luck young woman.
Before all this can happen, however, Edward has to break up with Bella. It's not like you can't see this coming, what with all the bickering these two do about whether she should be changed into a vampire, with Bella in the affirmative and Edward, worried it seems about her immortal soul, preferring she stay in human form.
Finally, weary of having family gatherings turn into howling crises whenever Bella gets a paper cut, Edward tells Bella that he and his clan will be leaving town and see her no more. Given everything that passed between them in the previous film, this is a wildly unconvincing moment, but Bella is devastated and proceeds to spend much of her high school senior year sitting in her room watching the weather change.
At a certain point, Bella realizes that should she get into trouble, Edward will appear to her, much like a Bernadette of Lourdes-type glowing vision, offering sound advice (what a guy). This turns her into something of an adrenaline junkie, courting disaster after disaster just for a glimpse of the one that got away.
All this gets to be so troublesome and confusing that Edward decides to make a dramatic and possibly life-changing appearance before the Volturi, the closest thing vampires have to a they-who-must-be-obeyed ruling class. These folks are so powerful, they are played by high-profile actors like Michael Sheen and Dakota Fanning. As Jimmy Durante might have said, where vampires are concerned, everybody wants to get into the act.
MPAA rating: PG-13 (for some violence and action)
Cast: Kristen Stewart (Bella), Robert Pattinson (Edward)
Credits: A Summit Entertainment release. Directed by Chris Weitz. Running time: 2:10