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The Twilight Saga: New Moon (PG-13)

Bella (Kristen Stewart) finds comfort with Jacob (Taylor Lautner) after Edward leaves town. SUMMIT ENTERTAINMENT
Bella (Kristen Stewart) finds comfort with Jacob (Taylor Lautner) after Edward leaves town. SUMMIT ENTERTAINMENT

“You’re not the first monsters I’ve met,” the 18-year-old Bella (Kristen Stewart) yawns at a pack of werewolves. They are fairly impressive creatures, these wolf-men who run around shirtless a lot, turn into giant wolves when angry and seem to own matching sets of magical pants that reappear when they transform back into their human selves.

The inexplicable pants are a good thing; otherwise, there would be a lot of new moons in New Moon, the second installment in what has now become known as The Twilight Saga. The first chapter, which was directed by Catherine Hardwicke, told of the tortured, surprisingly engrossing romance between Bella and Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), a mysterious, brooding boy at school who turned out to be a 109-year-old vampire.

The second, less effective chapter, directed by Chris Weitz (The Golden Compass), has to tear the two lovers apart, because aside from Pam and Jim on The Office, happy couples aren’t all that interesting to watch.

After an unfortunate incident during a Cullen birthday gathering (the film’s best scene) in which Bella suffers a paper cut and everyone suddenly gets really thirsty, Edward decides the girl will be better off without him and leaves town, promising Bella she’ll never see him again. This is quickly proven to be an outright lie, since Edward continues to appear to her in wisps of smoke whenever she’s in danger.

HER OLD PAL JACOBBut you can’t exactly hold hands with smoke — much less make out with it — and after a few months of heartbroken nightmares and moping, Bella notices her old pal Jacob (Taylor Lautner) is always hanging around and happy to keep her company. He’s also filled out considerably since the previous movie (“You know anabolic steroids are really bad for you,” she says, reading the viewer’s mind). And unlike the intangible Edward, Jacob is really hugable.

What ensues is intended to test Bella’s love for Edward — a test that grows increasingly complicated after Jacob discovers he is kindred to the pack of werewolves that roam the woods surrounding their town. But while the romantic triangle may have worked in the pages of Stephenie Meyer’s monumental bestseller, it doesn’t fly for a second on the screen.

Lautner, who lobbied hard and hit the gym in order to be allowed to continue to play Jacob in New Moon, doesn’t have the gravity and depth that Pattinson brings to Edward. He’s a boy in a man’s body, both as a character and as an actor, and the gifted Stewart, in their scenes together, seems to be tolerating him more than falling for him. There’s never any doubt Bella will drop Jacob the moment Edward reappears, which is an insurmountable problem for a film set primarily among the wolf people.

SILLY AND CLICHEDThe vampires eventually return, and the action jets overseas to Italy, but the damage has been done. What came across as intriguing and underplayed in the first film feels silly and clichéd in New Moon, with a tribunal of ancient vampires (led by Michael Sheen) that are as pompous and effete as every tribunal of ancient vampires you’ve ever seen. Even the appearance of Dakota Fanning as a red-eyed bloodsucker capable of inflicting intolerable pain on others falls flat: When one of the presiding vampires mutters “Let’s be done with this,” you can’t help but agree.

Inadvertently, New Moon also reminds you what a terrific job Hardwicke did directing the first Twilight, skirting the considerable potential for unintentional humor and bringing the lovers’ emotional angst to palpable, relatable life. In the sequel, Weitz lays on a pop song and slow-motion during a critical scene involving the sudden reappearance of a fearsome villain, giving everything an MTV-slick, teen-friendly gloss and reminding you this is just a movie — a somewhat silly and hollow one. At least Weitz nails the setup for the third chapter: The last scene kills and leaves you primed for the next movie, which is really what New Moon is all about.

Cast: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Billy Burke, Ashley Greene, Michael Sheen, Dakota Fanning.

Director: Chris Weitz.

Screenwriter: Melissa Rosenberg, based on the novel by Stephenie Meyer.

Producer: Wyck Godfrey.

A Summit Entertainment release. Running time: 130 minutes. Brief violence, mild vulgar language. Playing at area theaters.