The Twilight Saga comes close to that sweet spot between swooning silliness and special effects slaughter with Eclipse, the third film in the series.
Director David Slade (30 Days of Night, Hard Candy) doesn’t grasp teens in heat the way Catherine Hardwicke did in that overwrought, hormonal first film. He seriously soft-peddles the violence (little blood). But he delivers a lighter, more watchable fantasy about young love between a young blood and an old old-fashioned vampire.
Edward (Robert Pattinson) is determined to marry Bella (Kristen Stewart) and Bella is determined to bed Edward after this, their senior year at Forks High. “Change me, ” she pleads. “Not yet” he teases. It’s the most Mormon of the Stephenie Meyer adaptations thus far.
Jacob (Taylor Lautner) is growing more canine and more cocky, despite Bella’s rebuffs. Her dad is looking for a little “separation” between his daughter and her hot-and-heavy/cold and undead love. And Edward is preparing the girl for life after her conversion — her “last Christmas together” with family, and “last visit to mom in Florida” are on his list.
But there’s a threat in nearby Seattle. Vampires are run riot, an army being recruited by the mysterious and vengeful Victoria, played with fleeting fury by an otherworldly Bryce Dallas Howard. She has big plans for Bella and her beau.
It’s a jokey, self-aware movie, with members of that Harem of Hairdressers, the Cullens, joking about throwing a party because “How many times are you going to graduate from high school?”
Bella hangs around Jacob’s pack — “I know, I smell like a dog. ” It takes thirty minutes for werewolf Jacob to go topless — “Doesn’t he own a shirt?”
Slade masks the special effects, which he uses sparingly. State of the art of not, a digital dog is still a digital dog.
Touching flashbacks tell us the history of the Native American wolf packs, and of how a couple of the Cullens came to be vampires.
But despite moments of poetry in fields of purple wildflowers (purple is the color of this Twilight, after the amber of New Moon and the blue of Twilight), there’s not much heat between the leads. They’ve settled in as old marrieds and are frankly a pretty blase pair. We still don’t feel any conflict in Bella over which lover to choose.
The dullness of the performances (one-note Dakota Fanning returns) really stands out when somebody like Howard, or Up in the Air’s Anna Kendrick (as Jessica, the class valedictorian) turn up and liven up heir scenes.
But it’s a breezy two hours — too chatty and too long – sure to please the fans and less likely the non-converted. Whoever finishes off this saga, they’d be wise to go to follow Slade’s road map. He has an idea of where that sweet spot is.