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The Twilight Saga: New Moon

A year after Twilight scorched the cineplex with its tale of forbidden teenage human/vampire love, the second chapter of author Stephenie Meyer's harlequin saga has arrived to once again stir the loins of enraptured tweens (and their mothers, and their mothers' mothers) everywhere. Having already sold out its first 2,000 showings several days before its release, The Twilight Saga: New Moon is arguably the most critic-proof movie of the decade. And yet, here goes ...

From a filmmaking standpoint, New Moon represents an immediate upgrade over its predecessor, which all too often felt slipshod and amateurish. Under the more assured hand of director Chris Weitz (The Golden Compass, About a Boy), who took over the reigns from Twilight helmer Catherine Hardwicke, the film can at least boast the gloss and shine of a real Hollywood movie and not some straight-to-video hack job. Better visual effects, more accomplished camerawork, improved production design and a more seasoned cast all add up to a vast improvement in production values in New Moon. It could very well be the awesomest issue of Tiger Beat ever.

Where the film falters — fatally, in my opinion — is in its porous plotting and sluggish pacing. Meyer's source material mandated that its teenage heroine, Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), be separated from her vampire paramour, Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), at the outset, with the bulk of the narrative devoted to Bella coping with the loss of her goth James Dean. But producers of the adaptation, loath to reduce their most valuable asset to a mere cameo, expanded Pattinson's presence — and the film suffers for it. Edward lingers throughout New Moon's prolonged first act, strutting around in slow motion and uttering lines like "Bella, you give me everything just by breathing" before finally ditching the old lady and disappearing to Italy on official vampire business.

The inciting action — Edward's departure — is followed by a decided lack of action, specifically in regards to the futile efforts of Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), a musclebound, shape-shifting werewolf who emerges as a potential rebound candidate for Bella. The two friends engage in a painful, protracted flirtation: She ogles his (typically shirtless) chest, stares deeply into his eyes and tells him he's beautiful, but when he makes a move, she shuts him down, citing her continuing devotion to Edward, who appears repeatedly to her in the form of a distractingly cheesy, Obi-Wan Kenobi-like apparition. In the end, poor Jacob is left holding nothing but an aching pair of werewolf blue balls.

New Moon is all about longing: Bella longing for Edward; Jacob longing for Bella; me longing for something, anything, to happen. The film teases us with ominous talk of a looming war between vampires and werewolves, but it's just that: talk. The real action, I'm told, is saved for the next two Twilight installments, Eclipse and Breaking Dawn, which, judging from the current trend, will no doubt be stretched into six equally critic-proof films. Until then, we're forced to subsist on New Moon's meager melange of pointless adolescent melodrama — sprinkled liberally with gratuitous shots of toned, shirtless boys. rated this film 2 stars.