Twilight is not Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Novelist Stephenie Meyer threw out all the vampiric rules when she wrote the series that’s been described as the next Harry Potter—which would be accurate if the novels were better written, and if the stories appealed to boys as well as giggly girls. And, most crucially, if the franchise’s inaugural big-screen adaptation by Thirteen director Catherine Hardwicke didn’t suck more than its vampires actually do.
An actor faces a lot of pressure when tapped to embody a beloved fictional character. But try living up to fan expectations when the guy is described as “devastatingly, inhumanly beautiful,” with a “musical voice” and “soft, enchanting laugh.” Those adjectives add up to Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), the heartthrob teenage vampire who falls in love with Twilight’s mortal heroine, Bella (Kristen Stewart). Edward and the other baby Nosferatus in his family are sexier than your typical bloodsucker and more glam—because, ew, who’d want to read about a hottie who weakens or combusts in sunlight when he could just, well, sparkle instead? When Edward insists on showing Bella what he looks like when the sun’s out, you expect something frightening. Instead, he glistens as if covered with Urban Decay glitter. Dreamy! And Edward doesn’t need an invitation to pop up in Bella’s bedroom. He just arrives whenever he feels like it, which is totally hot.
Really, though, Twilight is Bella’s story, and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg does a fair-to-inadequate job translating the novel’s first-person introspection to the screen. Bella is a high-school junior who’s moved from Phoenix to Forks, Wash., to live with her father, Charlie (Billy Burke). She hates the rain and the goofy guys who hit on her but nonetheless becomes friends with the goofiest of the lot, Mike (Michael Welch), and the girl who’s crushing on him, Jessica (the usually bitch-cast Anna Kendrick).
Bella soon becomes drawn to Edward, who nearly busts a dusty blood vessel when Bella ends up sitting next to him in biology class. Later, he’ll tell Bella that he had to storm out of bio that day because he was pretty close to chowing down on her fair neck. But because the Cullens’ patriarch, a doctor named Carlisle (Peter Facinelli), has taught his brood to snack only on animals, Edward cautiously courts the tasty new girl.
The will-they-or-won’t-they tension that’s rather titillating in the book is all but lost on screen, though. Hardwicke’s interpretation of Edward and his fellow vampires is as ludicrous as Meyer’s vision was unachievable. Try not to laugh when you first see Dr. Cullen: Facinelli’s Carlisle looks like an albino mime, as alien as someone with a lab coat and clipboard could look and still resemble a human. And Pattinson’s mood-swinging but “musical” reticence too often sounds like a 12-year-old attempting to deepen his voice.
With the exception of a few evil undead and a game of—I swear—vampire baseball, Twilight’s main action is yearning. Meyer liked her characters to convey their thoughts with expressions almost more often than words; therefore, Pattinson and Stewart do a whole lot of staring. And because Edward’s supposed to be a good guy, he shows off his speed instead of his violent side. The leads have a couple of juicy moments together, and a mini damsel-in-distress arc is thrown in to keep the story from being completely, well, bloodless. When Edward warns Bella that he’s a killer, she responds, “I don’t believe you!” Neither do we.