"Laughable" probably isn't the word the makers of "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn -- Part 1" were aiming for, but there it is; laughter, at all the wrong places.
The fourth movie in the freakishly popular girl-vamp-wolf love triangle series is so self-serious, it's hard not to cackle at it. The dialogue is, of course, ridiculous and the acting ranges from stiff to mopey. But moments that should be pulsating with tension are usually hilarious because the special effects are still just so distractingly cheesy.
This latest installment has yet another new director -- Bill Condon, a man capable of both panache ("Dreamgirls") and serious artistry ("Gods and Monsters"), little of which you'll see here -- and yet again, the werewolves look jarringly out of place with their surroundings. In a technological age in which Gollum from the "Lord of the Rings" movies blends in seamlessly with everyone and everything around him, how are such sloppy visual effects still possible? Adam Sandler played opposite himself more convincingly in "Jack and Jill."
But we digress, because other movies are more fun to discuss. "Breaking Dawn -- Part 1," the first of two films adapted from the final book in Stephenie Meyer's series (with part two coming next year), serves as a placeholder for the ultimate finale but is jam-packed with developments in its own right. (Melissa Rosenberg once again wrote the adapted screenplay.) So much happens that you wonder, how can there be another entire film after this? Alas, there will be.
Part one begins with Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and her vampire beau, Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), marrying in a lavish, romantic outdoor ceremony. Bella's childhood best friend and the other man in the equation, werewolf Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner, barely recognizable with his shirt on), stops by as a gesture of goodwill. Guests mingle and dance and you have to wonder, do they realize that the groom and his entire family are the living dead? Do their eerie, porcelain complexions and glowing amber eyes betray them? The mind wanders.
Anyway, finally -- finally! -- Bella and Edward can have sex, the thing she has wanted all along but he has been reluctant to do for fear that deflowering her will, you know, kill her. Yes, the "Twilight" movies (and the books that inspired them) may be filled with swoony vampires and hunky werewolves, but they are firmly pro-abstinence -- and, later, firmly anti-abortion.
This should be the happiest day of Bella's life but she is, of course, nervous and miserable in general. Because she's Bella; Stewart maintains her usual sullen look for most of the picture. After the ceremony, Edward whisks her away to a private island off the Brazilian coast to make sweet, sweet vampire love to her. It's the moment we've all been waiting for -- and we get to see none of it. All that's left the next morning is a broken bed frame, fluffs of down floating in the air and a baby growing inside the new bride. That's how good Edward is.
From here, "Breaking Dawn" devolves into a debate about what to do with this potentially dangerous hybrid spawn. Whether to keep it is never really in question, even though it's developing at an alarming rate, eating Bella up from the inside and threatening her very life. She waits for the baby to arrive and everyone else sits around discussing while Jacob's werewolf pals hover outside the Cullen clan's door, prepared to pounce. And talking -- which, again, is meant to be ominous but instead comes off as just plain silly.
The score from Carter Burwell, the veteran composer and longtime Coen brothers collaborator, is surprisingly tinkly and intrusive and it further undermines the film's tone. The Twi-hards flooding theaters this weekend probably won't care, though. This is what they've been longing for, and it will be music to their ears.
"The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn -- Part 1," a Summit Entertainment release, is rated PG-13 for disturbing images, violence, sexuality/partial nudity and some thematic elements. Running time: 117 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.
Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:
G -- General audiences. All ages admitted.
PG -- Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
PG-13 -- Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.
R -- Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
NC-17 -- No one under 17 admitted.