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'Eclipse': Numb and bloodless

By Tom Charity, Special to CNN
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'Jacob' talks about filming shirtless
  • "Eclipse" is the third installment of the "Twilight" saga
  • The film is directed by David Slade ("30 Days of Night")
  • Slade is hamstrung by the series' recourse to less than state-of-the-art digital effects

(CNN) -- It all begins ... with a choice. Yes, three films in, and the "Twilight" saga is still having trouble getting started. Bella Swan, our wan and pensive necrophile heroine, remains deeply besotted with Edward Cullen, her wan and pensive "vegetarian" vampire boyfriend.

She's growing frustrated though, that he refuses to "turn her."

Not only that, he won't take her, either, in case he gets carried away and forgets his principles. What's a girl to do when her one and only refuses to go beyond first base until they are properly married?

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It's hard to fathom Bella's hesitation on that score -- apparently she'd sooner commit to a diet of blood for eternity than become Mrs. Cullen, even if he is her soulmate.

But then there's wolfboy Jake to consider (Bella's a freak magnet).

He loves her, too, and offers certain advantages over his undead rival: She could stay human, for example. Plus, she would get to hang out with the wolf pack in their cabin, where the buffer lycanthropes like to loll about in nothing but tight shorts.

Oh, and as Jacob tells Edward, "I'm way hotter than you." After all, what use is a vampire in a snowstorm?

With Bella's love life locked in a holding pattern, director David Slade ("30 Days of Night") throws his muscle behind the mysterious army of ravenous "new-bloods" assembling in Seattle,and an impending showdown between Edward and his most determined enemy.

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Victoria (now played by Bryce Dallas Howard) is the series' most compellingly dangerous character, so it's a pity she remains so peripheral to Stephenie Meyer's domesticated gothic, flitting about the edges of woods, angry and wild but highly unlikely to be permitted to contaminate Bella's pure romantic angst with her piercing anguish.

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If Slade is the first "Twilight" director who can handle action, like his predecessors he's hamstrung by the series' recourse to less than state-of-the-art digital effects (it's only been seven months since the last film). The vampires' superhuman velocity is almost comical, and when their limbs snap off like twigs, it's another illustration of just how numb and bloodless this neoromantic horror-lite really is. Or perhaps that's just another concession to the film's youthful teen base.

There are tantalizing hints of a fine Howard Shore score if you listen for it, but this is repeatedly drowned out by indiscriminate blasts of the indie rock songs that are being used to sell the movie and flog its soundtrack album (and presumably, lend it some street cred).

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Needless to say, none of this -- not the indifferent acting, the hokey flashbacks or even the risible incursions of the Volturi (an outfit who apparently take style tips from Ed Wood's camp classic "Plan 9 From Outer Space") -- will stop "Eclipse" from plundering the box office this week.

That's nice if you have stock in Summit Entertainment, but guarantees nothing to you and me except long lines at the theater.