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No real bite to 'Twilight'

There's something to admire about the Twilight pop culture phenomenon, just not on the movie screen.

Anything that gets 'tweens and teens reading books is fine, even Stephenie Meyer's pallid yarn about high school vampires and an everygirl in love with one. Vampires have always inspired sexual allegories, so the fact that love-struck bloodsucker Edward Cullen refuses to bite mortal Bella Swan (although she really wants it) is refreshing.

And excitement among "Twilighters" — the preferred nomenclature for fans — can be contagious. Tuesday's audience, almost entirely composed of young women, was as energized as their mothers were for Sex and the City viewings.

So, why spoil the fun by showing the movie?

Twilight plays like a CW network series that lost its way to cancellation. Same kind of elemental dialogue wrapped around a generational hook, for viewers too young to realize what's missing. All that matters is for actors to look yummy portraying high school angst that's easily relatable. Once the anticipation of awesomeness is established, quality doesn't matter.

Some fans will insist Twilight meets expectations, since they were so invested in the anticipation.

But this is a bad movie; strenuously dark and tonally erratic. Director Catherine Hardwicke possesses a fine ear for modern teenage problems, evidenced by better results in Thirteen and Lords of Dogtown. Yet she treats Meyer's material as reverently as The Nativity Story treated the Bible.

Twilight works better with its tongue sliding past vampiric incisors into the cheek. Its humorous scenes: Bella (Kristen Stewart) meeting the Cullen family, trying to be on their best, nonbiting behavior; any scene with her blithely protective father (Billy Burke); and the scholastic twits Bella endures at school, driving her toward the dangerous Cullen clan.

Yet the movie leans toward drama that the cast — especially flavor of the month Robert Pattinson as Edward — can't play convincingly. Pattinson's pallor matches the dank Pacific Northwest landscape perfectly, which is a polite way of saying he blends into the background.

Hardwicke's movie literally needs more bite. Only two vampire attacks are shown, neither with any genuine sense of terror.

Watching Edward and his brood scramble up pine trees, or swoop like love bugs do into windshields isn't thrilling. So little occurs in Twilight that it seems Meyer could condense her four-book saga into two, maximum.

Twilight will likely make enough money to justify adapting Meyer's second book, New Moon. Hardwicke hints as much in her movie's final frames, none too subtly.

Two suggestions: Put any sequels on TV where they belong, or invite the High School Musical kids over for a bite.

Steve Persall can be reached at persall@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at blogs.tampabay.com.

Opening today

'Twilight'

Grade: D

Director: Catherine Hardwicke

Cast: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Billy Burke, Peter Facinelli, Taylor Lautner, Cam Gigandet, Ashley Greene, Nikki Reed, Jackson Rathbone

Screenplay: Melissa Rosenberg, based on the novel by Stephenie Meyer

Rating: PG-13; brief violence and sensuality

Running time: 122 min.

No real bite to 'Twilight' 11/19/08 [Last modified: Thursday, November 27, 2008 1:12pm]

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