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MOVIE REVIEW

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn -- Part 1

Hour getting late for strange, over-edited ‘Breaking Dawn’

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By Wesley Morris
Globe Staff / November 17, 2011

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According to a recent study, 726,000 women who take the pill haven’t had sex. They must be “Twilight’’ fans. It’s hard to think of a more urgent reason than “Breaking Dawn’’ to keep your pants on and wash down another tablet with a bucket of Chubby Hubby. The movie is long and uniquely bad, the last of Stephenie Meyer’s four books greedily tortured into two installments. This, the fourth of five planned films, is the one we’ve been waiting for, since it’s also the one Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) has been waiting for.

For three movies, she has been begging for a good defiling, and now, courtesy of morally tidy matrimony, she can abscond to a private island with Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), her undead vampire beau with the Valentino lighting, who, after holding back these feelings for so long, is ready, at last, to get it on. The movie devotes its eternal first quarter to a wedding and a honeymoon (things being what they are, a night of would-be Marvin Gaye mutates into a suite of mewling café rock) and the rest to the days after. It’s during this stretch that Bella’s anticipation and ravaging result in morning sickness and culminate in worse. The side-effect of hubby’s chubby comes as a surprise to all.

But, really, when you’ve spent your entire relationship trying to have sex with a nonhuman who won’t because the sex might kill you, it seems that pregnancy is perhaps the evening’s least shocking outcome. Yet with a speed heretofore possible only courtesy of the wizards of daytime television, Bella finds herself with child. Or something. Whatever’s happening inside her womb develops at lighting speed, is turning her into a breadstick, and inspires much debate about how to proceed. Indeed, that cologne you smell is the musk of allegory and the source of this movie’s considerable strangeness. The characters - a vampire family and the werewolves who hate them - stand around and debate everything from whether to abort what could be a scourge to whether the scourge is a fetus or a baby. The werewolves - including Jacob (Taylor Lautner), the spiteful alpha who loves Bella - then debate whether to kill Bella, who sits around and wastes away.

Meyer’s books are subliterary, but their personal transparency, their sludgy mix of cautionary tale and wish fulfillment are touching. She seemed to be self-medicating. The movies have turned increasingly impersonal or least increasingly banal, delighted by their emotional structure and back stories and family trees without equally imparting that delight. “Breaking Dawn’’ is the series in its fullest Victorian flower. But with Bill Condon directing, the pacing is all wrong. It’s “Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies.’’

“Breaking Dawn’’ tries to have fun with Bella’s condition. It tries to have fun with the kind of sex that destroys a bedroom but without showing us the sex, which is like telling me you hit a grand-slam by presenting a broken bat. The frustration of these movies is that in each of them, whoever’s directing - Condon is director number four - seems to want to edge the material into camp or satire or glee but loses his nerve. (The director of the first movie, Catherine Hardwicke, risked taking Meyer and the series’ screenwriter, Melissa Rosenberg, at their word and made a sexy, human-scaled movie.) Condon uses more over-editing here than he used to turn “Dreamgirls’’ into a kind of slasher movie. But all that cutting doesn’t make the scenes any shorter or go any faster. It makes everything seem incongruously stoned.

He does get one true laugh. For four movies, Jackson Rathbone, as one of the vampires, has been sitting and standing in the frame like a man posing for a portrait. During the pregnancy debate, one character says Bella’s carrying a baby, and Rathbone steps into the frame, arches his eyebrow, and says, “Possibly.’’ It’s the grand-slam and the bat.

Otherwise, “Breaking Dawn’’ is just talking computer-generated werewolves, deplorable special effects, late-hour horror schlock, and a character cursed to be named “Renesmee.’’ And Taylor Lautner, yes, Taylor Lautner, who without doing any recognizable acting has managed to steal whatever about these movies is worth taking. Lautner has the sort of geometric face Chester Gould might have drawn and, playing a character who has been trying to have sex as long as Bella has, a wounded kind of spunk. He’s the only actor who gets to speak in continuous sentences, which, in a movie full of halting, monosyllabic dialogue, is like hearing an aria. Could a movie about a woman’s right to choose really be most accurately thought of as the tale of a frustrated warrior-virgin? Yes. Possibly.

Correction: An earlier version of this review misstated the name of the film’s screenwriter. It’s Melissa Rosenberg.

THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN -- PART 1 Directed by: Bill Condon.

Written by: Melissa Rosenberg, adapted from the novel by Stephenie Meyer.

Starring:Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, and Taylor Lautner.

Running time: 117 minutes

PG-13 (werewolf-vampire violence, implicit sex, explicit childbirth )

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