Going Gothic: 'New Moon' vamps on romantic clichés and drags on without wit or depth.

Swan Lake: Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) look longingly into each other’s eyes, and necks.

There came a point in this mind-numbing, butt-numbing – its running time is over two hours, but feels more like two days – ramble through unironic adolescent sexual terror when a band of buff, shirtless Indian lads is wandering through a misty wood in search of trouble. A smart director might have figured out some way to make this feel elemental and mythic, considering that the lads are werewolves shifted back into human form and Our Heroine, Bella Swan, is the innocent Red Riding Hood who’s running afoul of them. All the elements are there – they just need a touch of cleverness and wit to froth them up into something vaguely interesting. But Chris Weitz (The Golden Compass, About a Boy) doesn’t appear to have been concerned with adding any of the archetypal gravitas lacking from Stephanie Meyer’s hilariously trite source material: her novel of the same name; the screenplay is by TV writer Melissa Rosenberg, who also penned the first Twilight film. This is an earnest tale unhinged from any of the literary or cultural foundations propping it up, except when it explicitly throws them in your face.

Not many viewers may recognize the snippet of voiceover verse Bella tosses at us as the film opens – “These violent delights have violent ends” – but the tenor of the words and Kristen Stewart’s prophetic intonation certainly make it sound Important. But no one could miss the overt invoking of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet a little while later, as Bella’s English class is watching a video of a performance and Edward – vampire Edward! sparkly Edward! always-on-the-verge-of-tears Edward! – recites back the last few lines at the teacher’s request even though he hasn’t been listening because he was talking to Bella!

I guess we should give New Moon credit for forcing that bit to serve more than one purpose: It drives home the fact that Twilight is a Romeo-and-Juliet story, and reminds us how awesomely awesome and smart and romantic and tragic Edward is: He’s Romeo! And he can’t even kill himself over his heartbreak because he’s an immortal vampire! (Or can he? That forms the crux of what passes for plot here.)

By Bela Lugosi’s cape, this is a witless, humorless movie, about as deep and insightful and amorous as a teenaged girl’s playing Adopt the Name of the Cute Boy You Like and See How It Sounds. It’s one thing to indulge the mindset of girls Bella’s age, or a little younger – that moment when boys suddenly get intriguing but are at the same time terrifying is not a moment that movies often explore. And if the cinemas can be packed with movies pandering to adolescent male sexuality, it can only be seen as progress, I suppose, that adolescent female sexuality gets the same ignominious treatment.

But does it have to be this tedious? Two hours of pretty teenagers – including Bella’s werewolf friend, Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), who doesn’t like vampires but does like Bella – making moon eyes at one another around their triangle is about an hour-forty-five too much. (Robert Pattinson’s Edward Cullen is actually 108 years old and frozen at 17, when he became a vampire, but there’s no real sense that he’s lived for more than a century. How the hell can he stand to go to high school every day, for one thing?) Does Bella have to be so damn annoying, and so poor a role model for all the girls in the audience who are in love with Edward, too? Stewart is an engaging screen presence, and she does try to enliven Bella as much as possible, but the character is shockingly passive: She doesn’t do much of anything, just stands around watching things happen to her… except when she’s behaving so recklessly that Edward has to come and protect her from herself. At the same time, Bella is absurdly perfect, from her name – she might as well be called Grace Lovely, or Elegance Splendor – to how every man finds her so irresistibly attractive they are nearly incapable of controlling themselves around her. And all the while she puts herself down as ugly and utterly unworthy of Edward’s love.

Whatev.

There’s a movie within the movie that is New Moon, and it’s an action flick called Face Punch. Its tagline is: “Let’s do this!”

Now I just need a face to punch.

THE TWILIGHT SAGA: NEW MOON (1½) • Directed by Chris Weitz • Starring Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson • PG-13 • 130 min. • At Century Cinemas Del Monte, Maya Cinemas, Northridge Cinemas.

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