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Originally published June 29, 2010 at 12:02 PM | Page modified July 1, 2010 at 1:56 PM

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Movie review

'The Twilight Saga: Eclipse': Better than the rest, but that's not saying much

Edward's makeup is just right, new director David Slade takes it up a notch and the young actors at its center give better performances, but "Eclipse," though best of the three so far, is still part of what has been a less-than-sparkling series.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 2.5 stars

'The Twilight Saga: Eclipse,' with Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Ashley Greene, Billy Burke, Peter Facinelli, Elizabeth Reaser, Nikki Reed, Kellan Lutz, Jackson Rathbone, Dakota Fanning. Directed by David Slade, from a screenplay by Melissa Rosenberg, based on the novel by Stephenie Meyer. 121 minutes. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, and some sensuality. Several theaters.

It took three movies, but the "Twilight Saga" filmmakers finally got it right. I'm speaking, of course, of vampire Edward's famously sparkling-in-the-sun skin tones, which in the previous movies bore an unfortunate resemblance to Glitter Glue. In "Eclipse," finally, he's charmingly yet subtly a-twinkle, as if somebody sprinkled him with magic sugar.

Oh, and the rest of it? Well, within the confines of the infinitely dreary "Twilight" universe, filled with morose teens and dark summer days and mysterious love triangles involving vampires and werewolves, "Eclipse" is easily the best movie of the three, but that's not saying a lot. New director David Slade ("Hard Candy") does a creditable job of balancing the swoony romance with bloodthirsty violence and swift-cut action. And the three young actors at its center give better performances than usual: Robert Pattinson's Edward seems a little less nauseated; Kristen Stewart's Bella is marginally less fidgety (though she still rarely varies her standard facial expression of slack-jawed trepidation); and Taylor Lautner, as hunky werewolf Jacob, has learned, in crucial scenes, to speak very slowly, though perhaps that's just a ploy to give us more time to admire his abs.

But watch how Anna Kendrick, in a role that takes up perhaps two minutes of screen time, conveys a liveliness and self-possession that seems to happily engulf everything around her, and you see what's missing from this franchise's moon-eyed trio: charisma. And it's all the more apparent in "Eclipse," a film (and book) in which not a great deal happens, as we're setting things up for the grand finale of "Breaking Dawn." Why do we never get an inkling of what Bella sees in Edward, or vice versa for that matter? Why do we never see them laugh together, or talk about anything other than themselves, or share an interest, or connect on a level that would explain why Bella wants to throw her life away? And likewise, Jacob is so earnestly dull (except for the aforementioned abs) that he never seems to be serious competition for Edward, despite being, by his own admission, "hotter."

"Eclipse" is padded out by various vampire/werewolf back stories, but that time might have been better spent establishing some chemistry — and some personality — between its stars. On that level, the series is simply coasting — we all know the "Twilight" world by now, goes the reasoning, and everyone knows that Bella loves Edward because, well, sun rises and snow melts and the world turns. Anyone walking into "Eclipse" without seeing the previous two movies would be genuinely perplexed; behavior that barely makes sense when you know the story becomes truly nutty without context.

Anyway, things do move along in "Eclipse," and we get a sort of "West Side Story" rumble involving vampires (both good and bad, on different teams) and werewolves (siding, reluctantly, with the good vamps), and two abnormally gorgeous villains (Bryce Dallas Howard and Xavier Samuel) with hair so impressive it deserves its own movie, and a reappearance of the Volturi, who seem to attend their very own acting school, majoring in robotics. And it's always a pleasure to see the Cullen family perpetually arranging itself into striking tableaus, as if posing for a Calvin Klein ad just before heading out to fight the bloodsuckers. There's fun to be had here, just not for Bella and Edward — and, for all but the most steadfast fans, just not enough.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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