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MOVIE REVIEW: The Twilight Saga: New Moon

From left, Robert Pattinson stars as Edward Cullen, Kristen Stewart stars as Bella Swan and Taylor Lautner stars as Jacob Black.

From left, Robert Pattinson stars as Edward Cullen, Kristen Stewart stars as Bella Swan and Taylor Lautner stars as Jacob Black.

Earlier in the week it was announced that "New Moon" had sold the most pre-release tickets in the history of the movie industry. This should come as no big surprise to anyone and confirms that "The Twilight Saga" franchise will soon cement its position as one of the most lucrative franchises of all time.

There are three bits of good news for the "Twilight" faithful. Thanks to a far bigger budget and a higher-profile director (Chris Weitz), the special effects and action sequences are spectacular. The transformation of buff, shirtless teenage actors meandering through the forest in the rain into werewolves is the highlight of the film.

This installment also includes a second romantic interest for the perpetually sullen Bella (Kristen Stewart) to pine over and there is far less unintentional humor. All things considered, "New Moon" is slightly better than "Twilight." The die-hards will be thrilled.

For anyone not totally enamored with all things "Twilight" however, "New Moon" is a bust. If it wasn't real clear in "Twilight," it is here. Writer Stephenie Meyer's novels (at least the first two of the four) are little more than weak "Romeo & Juliet" rewrites. For the second time, screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg puts her past work on "The O.C." to good use by making sure the whole thing has the vacuous feel and shallow depth typically associated with WB and CW channel staples.

The movie opens with an intriguing dream sequence showing Bella as a senior citizen still gaga over the vampire Edward (Robert Pattinson) who professes his undying love to her. Luckily for Bella, Edward feels the same way when she wakes up but quickly changes his mind after she gets a paper cut.

Unable to guarantee her protection against attack from less thoughtful vampires (including his own brother) and unwilling to turn Bella into one of the undead as she wishes, Edward ends their courtship and tells her he'll never see her again. Yeah, right.

After spending an entire winter moping around the house and screaming in her sleep Bella finally decides to move on and contemplates a new romance with Jacob (Taylor Lautner). Jacob plays it smart by not being too pushy but once Bella decides she's in love with him he breaks up with her for practically the same reasons as Edward. Credit to both of Bella's beaus - they recognize it's better to shatter a girl's heart than to be responsible for her death.

Poor Bella can't buy a break but discovers a way too "see" Edward while simultaneously getting Jacob to remove his shirt and reveal his rippling six-pack abs. The giddy female throngs at the preview screening were especially pleased with this section of the movie.

After 90 mostly uneventful minutes spent in the dreary and rainy US northwest, the action shifts to sunny Italy with Bella and Edward's perky sister Alice (Ashley Green) racing against the clock in their attempt to prevent Edward from falling on a metaphorical sword.

The last act also features legit actors Dakota Fanning and Michael Sheen as members of an ancient aristocracy who act as a de facto vampire Supreme Court. While Fanning and Sheen up the movies' street credibility, their presence also magnifies the thespian shortcomings of Stewart, Pattinson and most of the rest of the returning cast.

It's been exactly one year since "Twilight" and rather than unnecessarily taunt and tease the fan base again, Summit is releasing the third installment ("Eclipse") next summer. It is being directed by David Slade whose "30 Days of Night" was one of the better (and gorier) vampire flicks of the last decade. Hopefully he can deliver the franchise the edge and bite it so desperately needs. (Summit Entertainment)