Wednesday, December 10, 2008


The romantic horror fantasy thriller "Twilight" (**** out of ****) qualifies as a terrific tale about forbidden love and passionate angst for teenage damsels. "Nativity Story" helmer Catherine Hardwicke and "Birds of Prey" scenarist Melissa Rosenberg have done a splendid job adapting bestselling author Stephenie Meyer's first-person novel about a virgin in love with a vampire. Mind you, these vampires are nothing like Bela Lugosi's "Dracula." Instead, these bloodsuckers can cavort in the daylight without getting burnt to a cinder. Moreover, they can gaze at themselves in mirrors, and they have no fangs to bare! While this radical departure from standard vampire lore may grieve "Blade" and "Buffy" fans from watching this chick-lite, WB-style saga, the young lovesick females who have made Meyers' four novels smash hits with 17 million copies sold in 37 countries could care less. This PG-13 rated romancer about the sexual attraction between two high school juniors confronts the temptations all teens face but it also marks the boundaries of true love. Furthermore, unlike its closest counterpart, a yarn called "Blood and Chocolate" about the illicit love between a graphic novelist on the lam in Europe and a shape-shifting female werewolf, "Twilight" is neither as gritty nor as gory. "Twilight" may keep its audiences awake at night, but they won't be suffering from nightmares.

Isabella 'Bella' Swan (Kristen Stewart of "Jumper") has spent most of her life with her flaky mom in Phoenix, Arizona. As "Twilight" opens, our dark-haired heroine flies off to live with her divorced police chief dad, Charlie Swan (Billy Burks of "Fracture"), in rainy Forks, Washington. It seems that Bella's mom, Renee (Sarah Clarke of "Thirteen"), and her new hubby, minor league baseball player Phil (Matt Bushell of "Leatherheads"), are hitting the road, and Bella wants the stable environment that only her dad can provide. It doesn't help matters that Bella is both awkward and accident prone. She cannot play volleyball without spiking her own teammates, and she isn't light on her feet when she dances. When she arrives at Forks High School, she manages to get in with the right crowd, but it is the guy in the wrong crowd that arouses her. Cadaverously pale Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson who plays Cedric Diggory in the "Harry Potter" franchise) cannot take his eyes off Bella anymore than she can look away from him. They get off on the wrong foot when he storms out of biology class, but soon they are as thick as thieves.

Early in the story, Bella is hanging out in the school parking lot by her jalopy of an ancient Chevy truck when another student, Tyler Crowley (newcomer Gregory Tyree Boyce) races onto campus. Another student pulls out in front of Tyler, and Tyler swerves and skids his van sideways. Bella looks up and stands paralyzed with fear. At the last possible second, Edward appears out of nowhere and keeps Tyler's van from creaming her. Bella stares in shock at the way Edward manages to halt the careening van with his hand. Later, Edward assures her it was nothing more than an adrenaline rush, but Bella doesn't believe him. No matter how many times Edward warns Bella to have nothing to do with him, she dreams about him. Eventually, they become fast friends, and our heroine discovers that there is more to Edward than meets the eye.

Hardwicke and Rosenberg take liberties with Meyer's novel, but the changes are relatively minor and make the action more palatable. I've read the novel once and seen the movie three times. Sticklers for detail may object to the differences, but by and large the alterations are for the better. Meyer penned the book in first-person so that everything is filtered through Bella's perspective. No third-person movie adaptation can replicate the first-person novel experience so some moviegoers may have a legitimate beef. Nevertheless, the shift in narration from first to third person presents greater opportunities for delicious red herrings and white-knuckled suspense. While Bella and Edward gradually grow accustomed to their respective fears and foibles, vicious vampires that drink human blood are attacking people in remote places. No, "Twilight" is nothing like "30 Days of Night." Hardwicke and Rosenberg don't confine the humor strictly to Bella and Edward's quirky relationship. Police Chief Swan is so concerned about Bella's new boyfriend that he gives his daughter a can of pepper-spray.

Ostensibly, "Twilight" is lightweight blast. The chemistry between Stewart's Bella and Pattinson's Edward is spot perfect. Edward is drawn to Bella because, unlike all the other students, he cannot figure her out. She baffles him, while Bella struggles to understand Edward's bizarre behavior. Robert Pattinson bears a striking resemblance to 1950's heartthrob John Derek. While Hardwicke conjures up humor in the offbeat coupling of Bella and Edward, the relationship between Bella and her estranged father Charlie recalls the oddball relationship between Harry Dean Stanton and Molly Ringwald in the John Hughes comedy "Pretty in Pink." Despite the audience demographic that "Twilight" plays to, Hardwicke never misses a chance to make this thriller look smart and sophisticated. Watch the high school scene when the teacher talks about rewarding the best lab partners with a golden onion. The last half-hour of "Twilight" shifts into high gear as Bella meets Edward's immortal family and some interlopers. What little violence occurs in this lushly photographed film occurs in those final 30 minutes. Nevertheless, you don't have to be a teenager to enjoy "Twilight" as a chaste romance with a twinge of tension.