Andy Bockelman: Appropriateness of ‘New Moon’ story wanes

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'The Twilight Saga: New Moon'

Rating: 2 out of 4 stars

Running Time: 130 minutes

Starring: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner.

Now playing at the West Theater.

Who could forget their senior year of high school? With the friendships, the prospect of the future, the love triangle with two different creatures of the night …

Or was that last example just in “New Moon?”

Teenager Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) is finding that dating a vampire can be quite an ordeal. Aside from being 90 years younger than her lover, Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), there’s always the inherent danger of spending time with his family, certain members of which aren’t as warm to her as her sweetie is.

But as long as Edward is around, she feels perfectly safe — which makes it all the more difficult when he breaks up with her, claiming that they won’t work as a couple because of their different lives. Wallowing in anguish for months after Edward’s departure from the town of Forks, Bella’s malaise finally begins to lift as she spends more time with good friend Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), who has serious feelings of his own for her.

While the pain from her break-up prevents her from being close with him, she still can’t help but feel love for him. But Jacob has a secret of his own: His Native American tribe, the Quileute, is comprised of a group of shape-shifting warriors who protect the area from malevolent vampires.

And although he is sworn not to harm Edward or his family, Jacob’s protectiveness of Bella may just get a little hairy.

It’s hard to tell if it’s Bella’s characterization or Stewart’s portrayal that makes her so off-putting, but it’s a bit too much to swallow that this is supposed to be a girl who becomes the ultimate object of desire of both a vampire and a werewolf. It’s not so much the dense lines that she has to utter, it’s the fact that a young actress as talented as Stewart can’t make it work in spite of these faults.

The same goes for Pattinson, although he’s clearly there — in a notably smaller capacity than in “Twilight” —just to look pretty and shiny.

And he has some real competition, with Lautner excelling as lycanthropic lothario Jacob, trimming his tresses and bulking up considerably from his last appearance. How fortunate for the girls in the audience he spends most of his time running around in shorts and high tops while on screen, but at least he comes off as realistic in addition to being hunky.

Much of the supporting cast founders with uninspired roles, although among the standouts: Ashley Greene as Edward’s sprightly, clairvoyant sister Alice; Michael Sheen — reversing his werewolf affiliation from the other big vampire/werewolf civil war series “Underworld: Rise of the Lycans” — as Aro, leader of the vampire aristocracy, the Volturi; and as his malicious guard Jane, Dakota Fanning, who looks at least a decade older with crimson contact lenses.

Maybe you have to be Fanning’s age to truly appreciate the “Twilight” movies and the Stephenie Meyer books upon which they’re based, but there are admittedly some improvements to be seen in this sequel.

Besides Lautner’s move into the spotlight and a much more biting sense of humor all around, there is a much clearer use of imagery at hand, such as the dreamscape of the Washington forests representing Bella’s recurring insomnia and the confusion and uncertainty about her life. The whole tone of the movie feels more dream-like, but even the best dream can turn into a nightmare.

And this isn’t the best dream, by far.

Forgetting — not forgiving — the lackadaisical story flow, there’s something very upsetting about Bella and Edward’s drastically desperate “I don’t want to live without you” outlook, a perverse twist on “Romeo & Juliet” that misses the point of everlasting love entirely. It manifests itself even worse with her as she loses her whole sense of self and becomes borderline suicidal.

It wouldn’t be as much of a concern if the “Twilight” franchise hadn’t already become such an entity unto itself. The “Team Edward” and “Team Jacob” T-shirts and buttons alone make it seem like a religion with numerous denominations.

Of course, the topper of “New Moon” is a smug, James Bond-esque, post-credits reminder that the forthcoming “Eclipse” will be released in 2010.

As if the legions of fans and 24-hour media coverage would let us forget.

Now playing at the West Theater.

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