Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Weirdly interesting touches can't save "Breaking Dawn"


The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 1 (2011)
117 min., rated PG-13.
Grade: C +

The foreplay, er, the wait is over, folks. Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) are going to have sex. Finally! But after they take their wedding vows, of course. "Breaking Dawn - Part 1," the penultimate part of the fourth book to "The Twilight Saga," is being split in half, not because there's so much story to cram in but Summit Entertainment is getting greedy with ticket sales. The first three "Twilight" movies were what they were—compulsively watchable pieces of teen melodrama—but this one's merely a placeholder. Like Warner Brothers' seventh, two-part "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," this "Part 1" is the setup for "Part 2." While the "Harry Potter" movies improved with age, as they got handed over from director to director until finding a perfect fit, "Breaking Dawn" confirms that it's time to put away childish things. No matter what, rabid fanatics of Stephenie Meyer's series and the movies will line up in droves, with their "Team Edward" or "Team Jacob" tattoos. By now, you know who you are and will already know if Edward putting a baby in Bella will steal your interest or not. 

At 18 and still a virgin, Bella is ready to risk her life marrying Edward, who's waited a century to have a faithful partner in sickness and in health. The wedding brings together Bella's divorced mom and dad, RenĂ©e (Sarah Clarke) and Charlie (Billy Burke), and the entire Cullen clan, along with a few members of the Quileute wolf pack. Jacob (Taylor Lautner) isn't present until the reception, where at that point Bella feels complete. That is until he gets into a tizzy when Bella shares the news that she and Edward will be having a "real" honeymoon. Which means she'll be deflowered and turn into a vampire, and Jacob will have to stay a virgin until he "imprints" someone else (read: finding a soul mate). Then it's off on their honeymoon, as Edward surprises Bella with a chic villa in Brazil on their own private island and proceeds to make sweet, passionate vampire love to her. After their wham-bam night of literal bed-breaking (cue the down feathers floating in the air), Bella is all roughed-up and bruised; Edward apologizes and refuses to let it happen again, but his bride wants more. Lots of chess playing and Bella trying on skimpy lingerie later, they finally do the deed again. Before you know it, Bella is craving chicken wings, suffering morning sickness, and realizing her period is late. That's right, the newly Mrs. Cullen is preggers! And the fetus is so quickly growing that it begins crushing her body from the inside out. Bella not only starts "showing," but her face gets sunken in and she looks like a heroin junkie. Meanwhile, Jacob separates himself from the Quileute tribe who plans to destroy the unborn child and then kill Bella. Will the immortal hybrid baby kill Bella before the wolves do? 

Screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg continues adapting these books to screen, but with "Breaking Dawn - Part 1," the story feels stretched thin and unable to be spread over two movies. Director Bill Condon (2006's "Dreamgirls") getting handed the baton to work from Rosenberg's script is like squeezing blood from a drained corpse. While he comes the closest to bringing an actual sense of horror to these movies, this self-serious, increasingly icky material could've used more of the filmmaker's bold touches. Early on, when Edward feels the need to tell his soon-to-be bride that he used to tear up the necks of serial killers circa 1935, a vintage flashback harkens back to old horror-movie monsters by being set in a movie palace that's showing "Bride of Frankenstein" (a nod to Condon's own "Gods and Monsters" from 1998). Then as a pre-wedding jitters nightmare, there's a stylishly morbid shot of Bella and Edward at the altar, atop a wedding cake-shaped pile of their dead ceremony guests. The wedding itself, an outdoor ceremony, is elegantly designed and well-shot, even more so than William and Kate's royal wedding. The pre-reception toasts are also quite amusing, especially when sharp-tongued classmate Jessica (Anna Kendrick) stands up to the mic. And later, the birth scene is as bloody, intense, and deftly edited as one could hope, vampire teeth C-section included. 

But in order to get there, one has to wade through a lot more soapy, love-triangle melodrama (why is Jacob still whining about Bella?) and giggle-inducing dialogue. The CGI werewolf effects are even more laughably cheesy than before, especially when they talk telepathically. Stewart still prefers to blink and do some hard contemplation with her eyebrows as Bella, but with the help of make-up, she makes "anemic and nearly dead" look convincing. There's not much to comment on Pattinson, as he is Edward Cullen and he's as good as he's going to get. Lautner rips off his shirt in rage the first time we see him, but trades actual emoting for his two-gear method acting of grimacing and smirking. 

"Breaking Dawn - Part 1" already has its presold fan base of prepubescent girls that haven't gotten enough of the smoldering, forlorn glances. For everyone else, it starts out fine, sags for a giant chunk in the middle, and then doesn't get twisted and really interesting until the final half hour. Incomplete as its own story but ending with an admittedly suspenseful cliffhanger, "Part 1" leads up to Bella's vampirization and Jacob "imprinting" newborn Renesmee (not to be confused with the moisture-rich shampoo Tresemme). Twi-hards are probably awaiting the vampire politics involving the Volturi, too, which is hinted at mid-end credits. Only time will tell if Condon can re-muster the envelope-pushing moments of this one for "Part 2."

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