Props to Kristen Stewart, 18, and Robert Pattinson, 22, for playing this uncool-girl-meets-undead-boy story with genuine romantic ardor. They’re both terrific. Even when the movie gets really silly, they never do. Stewart (Panic Room, Into the Wild) brings just the right blend of ferocity and feeling to the role of Bella Swan, the loner from Phoenix who leaves her mom to live with her police-chief dad in rarely sunny (hint! hint!) Washington state.
In biology class, Bella is partnered with standoffish hunk Edward Cullen (Pattinson). Edward hangs only with his four siblings, who share his pallor. Bella picks up on it quick. For Edward, it’s love at first sniff. He wants Bella’s blood; it’s only later that his interests go deeper. For Bella, Edward’s beauty is just window dressing for a guy who taps into her isolation and need for connection. He comes in handy when rapists attack and a runaway car shows up to crush her.
Pattinson, a British actor best known as Cedric Diggory in two Harry Potter films, has already attracted a swooning teen fan base unequaled since Leonardo DiCaprio sailed on the Titanic. But what’s with the tacky FX that show Edward flying Bella through the trees? I admit a $37 million budget is modest these days, but it should buy more than blurry camera moves and a lame game of vampire baseball.
As for sex, there’s a quick flash of Edward in bed with Bella, his fangs dripping blood, but she’s dreaming it. Otherwise, Edward’s choppers are frustratingly normal. He’s afraid he’ll kill her if they go all the way. Cullen family members, including M.D. father Carlisle (Peter Facinelli), try hard to feed on animal blood instead of the human kind. But there are slip-ups. You buy the fantasy because Pattinson goes beyond dreamboat duty to create a character you believe in.
Readers of Meyer’s young-adult novel know that the tale continues through three more books (New Moon, Eclipse and Breaking Dawn). And, damn, it helps if you read them. Screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg (Step Up) struggles hard to stay faithful to Meyer, resulting in a script that rolls out like a Cliffs Notes outline, with each character popping up for a cameo and a brief résumé: James (Cam Gigandet) is a vamp who won’t settle for Carlisle’s tofu and wants to snack on Bella. Bella’s pal Jacob (Taylor Lautner) is a werewolf. You’ll need a score card. My advice: Focus on Pattinson and Stewart. They make you understand why the books sold 17 million copies. Love makes the world go round. Even if you’re dead.