Worry not for the purity of your tween girls, global mothers. Where Catherine Hardwicke's lively, irreverent take on the first book in the Twilight series at least made room for a few suggestive winks, the sequel is stuck right in the abstinence mud with author Stephenie Meyer. Meyer may be, as Oprah admiringly called her recently, a "black-belt reader," but as a writer, she's strictly Dear Diary, and Melissa Rosenberg, who wrote The Twilight Saga: New Moon, is nothing if not respectful of her vapid prose. The movie, directed by Chris Weitz, comes off very much like Clint Eastwood's The Bridges of Madison County — professional filmmaking applied to subliterary euphemistic trash, in this case couched in the jejune crush-fantasies of a Mormon mom stranded at home with three little boys.
I don't get the lure of vampire chic, but attention must be paid, if only because millions of girls on the cusp of adolescence and beyond — not to mention, after lights out, their mothers — groove to Meyer's chaste, oddly bloodless, and nearly plotless saga of a troubled high school outsider who finds love and protection with a family of expensively attired bloodsuckers in red-gold contact lenses.
If nothing else, the new movie honors the anodyne spirit of its source — give or take a few CGI face-offs between werewolves and vampires. New moon or not, Bella (Kristen Stewart) is still yearning on, and on and on and on, for the neck bite that will be her ticket to eternal supernatural bliss with Edward (Robert Pattinson), he of the moussed hair, fairy-dusted skin, and no personality to speak of.
All media reports to the contrary, Edward has not left the building. After a very long goodbye, repeated at 15-minute intervals with mournful stares and fluttery mini-kisses, he mysteriously retreats briefly to vampire country, then returns in ghostly form to protect Bella from ... nothing very much, unless you count the more than three months, unfolding in what feels like real time, that she spends pining away in bed. Some day, Kristen Stewart, who cut a striking presence earlier this year in Greg Mottola's Adventureland, will do great things with her instinctive intensity, but as Bella, she stares and mutters, mutters and stares until, discovering risky behavior à la Church of Latter-Day Saints, she hitches a 100-yard motorbike ride with a complete stranger, then settles for bike assembly with good old reliable schoolmate Jacob (Taylor Lautner), who is not all he seems.
A moment of carnal potential rears its head briefly when Lautner, pumped unto incredible hulk, strips off his shirt, eliciting girlish screams from the audience that even the subsequent display of Pattinson's puny white torso can't measure up to. Weitz, who seems to have dozed through the making of New Moon thus far, wakes up long enough to deliver a short display of bare-fanged competitive masculinity, followed by a sudden trip to something resembling Italy, with lots of red robes (thank you, Dan Brown) and over-the-top Catholicity. There, in a movie almost totally devoid of humor, let alone real passion, waits Michael Sheen, king of the evil Volturi, decked out in a long black wig and a curling lip. Alone of all the earnest players in this turgidly euphemistic melodrama, Sheen seems to grasp that the only way you can keep a straight face through this choked-up virginity is to carry it way into camp.