The Twilight Saga continues with the incredibly tepid and blasé “New Moon”. The story picks up with Bella (Kristen Stewart) and her vampire boyfriend, Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), enjoying life as paramours. Bella harbours deep fears about aging, and longs to be a vampire to enjoy eternal life with Edward. But he believes his soul is damned and doesn’t want that fate for her. Edward’s fears are compounded after a bloody incident at Bella’s eighteenth birthday party. He, and the entire Cullen clan, decides to leave town immediately; thus giving Bella a chance at a normal life. Heartbroken, Bella spirals into a deep depression. She finds solace in her growing friendship with Jacob (Taylor Lautner). He falls in love with Bella, but is undertaking a physical transformation into a powerful, deadly creature. New Moon is primarily about the choices these characters make as their love strains their loyalties.

Let me first say that I have never read the Twilight books, so I don’t know if those books are being accurately adapted to the films. If they are, then the books are no different than dime store harlequin paperbacks. New Moon is essentially a Lifetime movie of the week with bad acting and no chemistry. The characters, particularly Bella and Edward, have about as much feeling as a novacained tooth during a root canal. They simply do not have a tangible connection that resonates with the audience. They make the motions of anguish for their forbidden romance, but it’s totally unbelievable. And if the crux of the story is so unconvincing, then every other part of the film crumbles.

Kristen Stewart is miscast as Bella. She’s absolutely terrible in this film. I realize the script doesn’t give her much to work with, but she pretty much dials in a weepy performance. Here you have two incredibly attractive super humans vying for your affection, and she looks like every other angst ridden teenage girl listening to complaint rock. I find it hard to believe that the character of Bella is so emotionally feeble in the novels. A heroine has to have some likeable traits and Kristen Stewart bats a spectacular zero in this film.

I felt like I had to hit the gym after watching this movie. Jacob and his pals have seriously roided up for this sequel. These guys are buff, etched out of stone with six pack abs and sculpted pecs. There’s enough gratuitous female nudity in film, so it’s fair play for the ladies, and guys; who enjoy half naked teens running around for two hours. I found myself laughing out loud at some of the scenes with Bella and the shirtless Jacob, but took a quick scan of the audience and every woman was enraptured. New Moon is a quasi skin flick for Taylor Lautner. I wonder if he gave up wearing shirts completely while filming.

The special effects in New Moon are tailor made for the teenage girl audience. This is not a horror film or grotesque in any way. The vampires are beautiful, sparkling in the sunlight creatures that are more akin to faeries than demonic bloodsuckers. The werewolves have a bit of a snarl, but look like giant German Sheppards. I had expected a bit more action in the sequel, but it’s tamer than the first film. The violence is geared down here to focus on the inane love story.

New Moon will undoubtedly be a blockbuster at the box office, but is really quite weak as a film. Director Chris Weitz (About a Boy, The Golden Compass) turns in a subpar effort here. The story, characters, effects, and music should have been much better. I can’t help but feel they played it safe for the target demographic (teenage girls), but you can’t build a successful, long term franchise on flimsy ground. Every film needs to advance on the good points of the previous, and unfortunately there’s very little to carry on in New Moon.

The Twilight Saga: New Moon is out November 18, 2009.

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