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LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - It took three films, but "The Twilight Saga" finally nails just the right tone in "Eclipse," a film that neatly balances the teenage operatic passions from Stephenie Meyer's novels with the movies' supernatural trappings.
Where the first film leaned heavily on camp and the second faltered through caution and slickness, "Eclipse" moves confidently into the heart of the matter -- a love triangle that causes a young woman to realize choices lead to consequences that cannot be reversed.
With the momentum of a movie series that sees installments arriving like clockwork every year, "Eclipse" looks primed to be the most successful film yet in Summit Entertainment's franchise upon its Wednesday release. The action is pretty much relegated to the climax, but it's nifty enough that young men may get into the series too even if "Eclipse" isn't their first choice on a Friday night.
The film starts a little slowly with its classic reintroduction of its main characters, heroine Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), more determined than ever to go vampire for her undead boyfriend; the gloomy dreamboat Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), an ancient being who still hasn't graduated high school; and Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), a perennially bare-chested Native American who shape-shifts into a wolf at a moment's notice.
Even here the film doesn't mind kidding itself. Edward takes one look at Jacob and complains to Bella, "Doesn't he own a shirt?" The script by Melissa Rosenberg offers a few more opportunities like this that wink at its own silliness.
Things pick up rapidly once intros are done, with the ramifications of the girl/vampire/werewolf triangle becoming increasingly intense for all parties while an outside threat looms over them all.
A crime wave has hit Seattle, a few leagues from the bucolic Washington town that shelters so many supernatural creatures apparently without any townspeople catching on. A series of vicious killings and disappearances tip off the Cullen clan that a vampire is creating an army of newborns -- newly turned vampires whose ravenous thirst makes them stronger and more deadly than "old" vampires.
This army recruiter is red-headed Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard, the epitome of sensual, feline cunning), who, in seeking revenge against the Cullens and Edward in particular, means to destroy Bella. Which causes Edward and Jacob to contemplate the unthinkable, a temporary alliance to protect the girl they both love.
It's like the uneasy partnership between lawman Wyatt Earp and outlaw Doc Holliday against the Clanton clan at the O.K. Corral in "My Darling Clementine." Well, why not a Western? "The Twilight Saga" already mixes together high school melodrama, outsider fiction and teen romance into a mishmash of sci-fi and horror genres.
Since Rosenberg's writing has never been the problem in the series, much of the credit for the success of "Eclipse" probably belongs to the series' third director, David Slade ("Hard Candy," "30 Days of Night"). He quickly establishes a rapid yet unhurried pace, a willingness to let tongue perch in cheek and an unapologetic indulgence in this basic fantasy of every teenage girl -- that two high school hunks are in love with her and willing to die for her, except, of course, that one is already undead.
The three leads shine under his direction. Stewart anchors everything with a finely tuned if not slightly underplayed performance that catches her character in moments of doubt about the course and the man she has chosen. Pattinson makes you forget the white makeup and weird eye contact lenses to concentrate on a person torn over his love for a woman and the sacrifice he knows she will have to make to stay with him.
But it's Lautner who nearly steals the movie with his ripped muscle and steely acting. He definitely has the "it" factor Hollywood always looks for.
The high school scenes and those between Bella and her police chief dad (Billy Burke) are quick and light and doubly effective for not dawdling. The series' more peripheral characters are coming into better focus as well. The film delivers backstories for both Jasper (Jackson Rathbone) and Rosalie (Nikki Reed) of the Cullen family as well as the origins of Jacob's family, the wolf pack, without any of these flashbacks seeming like intrusions.
Speaking of the wolf pack, the computer-generated wolves, huge creatures whose ferocity fails to mask their tenderness, are very cool, and the fight at the climax among wolves, vampires and one poor human is no letdown. It delivers the goods without overstaying its welcome, which is more than can be said about most CG movie fights.
Production values are aces with DP Javier Aguirresarobe and production designer Paul Denham Austerberry very much taking advantage of the dark, woodsy and utterly beguiling beauty of British Columbia.