New Moon goes through great pains to present itself as a descendent of Romeo And Juliet, except without all that icky tragedy in the end. There are warring clans—in this case, werewolves and vampires—a rival suitor, tragic miscommunication, and at the center of it all, two self-absorbed teenage lovers. Throw in a revenge subplot and an ancient, power-hungry clan of evil Italian vampires, and it all sounds potentially thrilling. But in spite of its wealth of conflict, New Moon suffers from a dearth of accompanying tension and excitement, thanks to the increasingly tedious relationship at its center.
After spending the first Twilight movie glowering each other into romantic submission, mush-mouthed teenager Bella (Kristen Stewart) and her ostensibly dreamy but actually creepy, manipulative vampire beau Edward (Robert Pattinson) begin New Moon as the unhappiest-looking happy couple at their rural Washington high school. But in the fallout of a nasty paper-cut incident, Pattinson skips town with the rest of his clan, leaving Stewart to explore her range of mopey expressions alone. After discovering that by acting reckless, she can induce hallucinations of Pattinson scolding her, Stewart sets out to do anything she can think of to provoke those sweet, sweet reprimands. Her plan to—gasp!—build and ride a motorcycle leads to a developing friendship with local gearhead/latent werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner), a cheerful younger boy who promptly falls for her sullen charms, providing Stewart with enough anguish to hold her over until Pattinson’s inevitable return.
New Moon panders to the massive Twilight fan base even more than its predecessor, stuffing its overlong running time with go-nowhere subplots and gratuitous shots of the buff, oft-shirtless Lautner, on top of the protracted silences and longing gazes that have become de rigueur for the series. Admirably, director Chris Weitz (The Golden Compass) manages to maintain the series’ distinctively moody tone while smoothing out the rough edges of Catherine Hardwicke’s initial installment. Twilight’s distracting blue-filtered lens and laughably clunky vampire visuals have given way to warmer tones and markedly better action sequences that make the film more inviting visually, if nothing else.
Lautner helps break up Stewart and Pattinson’s overwhelming dourness, as do New Moon’s occasional attempts at humor. However, while Lautner is the only one of the three principals who can smile without looking exceedingly uncomfortable, his wooden carriage and delivery add up to all the onscreen appeal of a Ken doll, and the film still turns in more unintentional, forehead-slapping laughs than scripted ones, particularly for audiences who haven’t been inoculated by the books. New Moon was clearly made with its disturbingly loyal fans in mind, and while its cheesy, melodramatic charm is unlikely to win any new converts to the series, it succeeds in giving its intended audience exactly what it wants.