Whether or not every teenage girl secretly wants to fall in love with a dashing vampire – as Stephenie Meyer's novel and cult object "Twilight" suggests – it's certain that most teenage girls in America can't wait for the movie version of "Twilight." Any book franchise that has sold more than 17 million copies globally and has, according the film's pressbook, spawned more than 350 fan websites is a force of its own, a megabusiness.
This is a good thing for Meyer, since the first film out of the chute is a hackneyed jumble of cuts and pastes from the book, blended with second-rate music video bits and third-rate visual effects, and finally undone by the fatal casting of Kristen Stewart as Bella, the heroine of the four-book "Twilight Saga." This, plus the poor decision to assign the erratic Catherine Hardwicke as director, sucks most of the stylish vigor and wit out of what made Meyer's debut such a fine piece of juvenile fiction that refused to dumb itself down for its audience.
The dumbing down is left to the movie, which impatiently wants to insert a paltry thriller-cum-vampire serial killer subplot into the tale of how 17-year-old Bella, newly arrived in the rainy Olympic Peninsula town of Forks, meets impossibly handsome and ashen-faced Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson). Whereas the novel's charm was its desire to tell a sincere teen love story between an insecure female human and a beautiful male creature, and only gradually reveal his vampiric identity, Hardwicke's film is impatient to get the action going.
This is strange, since Hardwicke's one decent film, "Thirteen," dealt somewhat honestly with the tugs and terrors of real teen girl life; this time, the near total lack of any sense of how teenagers live drives a wedge between how Bella feels in her everyday existence and the extraordinary one she's drawn to whenever she's around Edward.
As the attraction grows, what fails to happen in the movie is Stewart coming alive with some glint of energy, thrill, spark... something. A young and as-yet-unformed actor, Stewart is cast in a role she's simply not ready for, and her effort to work hard – exactly what any actor must hide from the audience – is painfully visible in every scene. By contrast, Pattinson is smooth as glass, a born movie star who only needs to slant his eyes to grab attention. While he misses Edward's humorous side in the book, he refashions the brand of alienated teen cool that James Dean patented. He may be just enough to keep the teen fans distracted so they don't notice how much they're being cheated out of a real experience. Grade: C- (Rated PG-13 for some violence and a scene of sensuality.)
• The Monitor's regular critic, Peter Rainer, is on vacation.