- - Thursday, November 17, 2011

There I was, thinking I’d never get to see a movie about a psychic, blood-drinking, half-human superbaby. And then I saw “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 1.”

Don’t let the “Part 1” confuse you. It’s actually the first half of the fourth installment in the supernaturally popular series based on Stephenie Meyer’s books about a teenage girl involved in a love-triangle with two mythical creatures: impossibly hot teenage boys who also hope to protect her and remain chaste until marriage.

The film’s romance is as flimsy as its fantasy, but that will hardly matter to the target audience. Like all the “Twilight” films, “Breaking Dawn” is aimed squarely at the female demographic — in case there was any doubt going in, it takes less than a minute before one of the male leads rips off his shirt, which may set a new record for time to shirtlessness. The premise, however, has its roots in an old boys’ game: the fantasy fight matchup pitting two famous superbrawlers — say, Superman and Spider-Man — against each other. In this case, the matchup is between vampires and werewolves, but the battle is for a young girl’s heart and hand in marriage.

In previous installments, the vampire, Edward (Robert Pattinson) definitively won the contest, which appears to have been fought on the strength of distant stares and moody adolescent moping. Edward and Bella (Kristen Stewart), the bride-to-be, even sent out wedding invitations. Which is what leads her other suitor, the werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner), to tear off his top, transform into a computer-generated wolf and storm off into the woods.

It’s a preview of things to come. People — and their beastly alter-egos — are constantly storming off into the woods in “Breaking Dawn.” The problem is they’re not doing much else.

Like previous installments, “Breaking Dawn — Part 1” is heavy on glowering. And to be fair, all of the leads — Mr. Lautner in particular — are legitimate glowering experts, first class. But a study in the varieties of petulant disinterest is not enough to carry a movie for a full hour, as it’s expected to do here.

For the first half of the film, almost nothing happens. Bella and Edward get married, make gooey eyes at each other, head out to a honeymoon on a private island, play chess, frolic under a waterfall and literally break their wedding-night bed.

Which is what eventually leads us to the bloodthirsty psychic superbaby. The movie follows it blank-eyed first hour with a truly weird pregnancy dilemma that ends with Bella drinking bag after bag of human blood through a straw-topped Styrofoam cup. Pregnancy may result in strange and powerful cravings, but this still seems over the top.

Maybe that’s the point. “Breaking Dawn” is unrepentantly, unashamedly bad. It’s poorly acted, poorly scripted and poorly directed, with mediocre effects and darkened action scenes that are impossible to follow. It’s also more than a little bit creepy: the blood drinking, the unborn baby’s inexplicable psychic powers, and the fact that Edward, a century-old undead vampire who conveniently looks like a college sophomore, weds and beds the virginal 18-year-old Bella.

Will any of this matter? Judging by the delighted shrieks and giggles that accompanied the screening I attended, no. The series’ legions of devoted fans are virtually guaranteed to sink their teeth into whatever shows up on screen, no matter how lifeless.

★½ (out of four)

CREDITS: Directed by Bill Condon, screenplay by Melissa Rosenberg

RATING: PG-13 for violence, sexuality, birthing gore

RUNNING TIME: 117 Minutes



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