March 18 2013 12:00 AM

Overwrought, unintentionally hilarious 'Breaking Dawn, Part One' kills off the 'Twilight' franchise


Stephenie Meyer, the queen of supernatural teen romance, was
faced with a rebellion in her kingdom when “Breaking Dawn,” the final
installment of her phenomenally successful “Twilight” series, was published in
2008. Many readers were dissatisfied with the wrap-up of the love triangle
between mortal Bella Swan, vampire Edward Cullen and werewolf Jacob Black, and
they took their complaints to Facebook, Twitter and fan sites.

Three years later, the griping can begin anew with “The
Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part One,” which quickly vanquishes whatever good
will might have been built up by the earlier films in the series. Sour, clunky
and sometimes unintentionally hilarious, the cinematic “Dawn” drives a
splintery stake straight through the heart of the franchise.

The movie gets off to a wobbly start with the wedding of
Edward and Bella, a ceremony in which the bride wears white and many of the
attendees are pasty-faced; that’s the downside of having so many blood-drinkers
on your guest list. What should have been a swooningly romantic sequence —
“I’ve been waiting a century to marry you, Miss Swan,” Edward says, and those
of us who sat through the first three chapters can vouch for that — instead
feels rushed and uninspired, like a chore the filmmakers had to check off their
to-do lists. Whatever sparks once flew between Kristen Stewart’s Bella and
Robert Pattinson’s Edward apparently burned out some time ago, and the two now
look at each other as if they were two exhausted strangers waiting for the same

That’s sadly appropriate, since Meyer (who is credited as a
producer) and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg are no longer interested in
celebrating the mysteries of love: They’ve got a cautionary tale to ram down
your throat. The message of “Dawn,” which is spelled out in such hysterically
over-the-top detail that it would embarrass the operators of one of those
moralistic Christian “horror houses,” is that sex leads to disaster. Even if
you hold out until after that walk down the aisle, a taste of carnal knowledge
will leave you feeling 17 different kinds of sorry.

The still-virginal Bella and Edward jet off to an island off
the coast of Rio for a honeymoon full of moonlight skinnydipping and daylight
frolics in waterfalls. Unfortunately, they also consummate their passion
(mostly off-screen) — and oh, how they pay the price for that.

In addition to leaving Bella looking like she’s ready to audition
for a remake of “The Burning Bed,” their first tryst leaves Edward feeling glum
and guilty. You know, ladies, even if they’re technically no longer human, guys
just can’t control themselves.

Bella immediately winds up heavy with child, and this is no
blessed event. She quickly becomes nauseous, frail and ill. That’ll teach you
to run around in a white bikini and black lingerie, girly!

While Edward’s sisters bicker over the proper politically
correct terminology — Alice (Ashley Greene) calls Bella’s burden a fetus, while
Rosalie (Nikki Reed) insists it’s a baby — Bella wonders if she’s heading for
maternity or the mortuary. Meanwhile, the chronically shirtless Jacob (the buff
but blas Taylor Lautner) spends most of the movie posing sullenly at the side
of Bella’s sick bed, wearing a “told ya so” look and carrying a torch so large
it’s a miracle it doesn’t set off the theater’s sprinkler system.

“Would you just get over it?” Jacob’s friend Leah (Julia
Jones) snarls, perfectly vocalizing the sentiments of the audience. “It’s not
like you’ve imprinted on her!”

Yes, Lautner seems like James Dean reincarnated as an
android programmed to speak nothing but Macho Monotone, and Pattinson and
Stewart appear bored to the point of catatonia by the supposedly high-stakes
drama swirling around them. But before we condemn the performers, let’s take a
moment to consider how difficult it would be to speak Rosenberg’s
often-ridiculous words with any sort of conviction. Even Helen Mirren might
have a tough time selling “It’s not like you’ve imprinted on her!”

If any of this sounds remotely involving or exciting, be
aware that director Bill Condon allows nearly every scene to proceed as if it
was being carried by pallbearers moving through a swamp. The absurd amount of
lingering close-ups of Stewart recalls the self-adoring heyday of Kevin Costner
(there was a reason why so many of his movies were three hours long), and the
painfully padded plot collapses into campiness.

When Jacob shape-shifts into his wolf form and gets in a
raucous argument with a pack of fellow canines, “Dawn” suddenly becomes
something like an acid-soaked Jack London adaptation or a demented Disney
flick. Even the most devout “Twilight” cultists will have difficulty
suppressing the giggles.

The single bright moment in “Dawn” comes early on, when
Edward confesses his sins to Bella, triggering a flashback to 1935, when he
stalked already spooked movie patrons during a showing of “The Bride of
Frankenstein.” As a few brief glimpses of Colin Clive and Elsa Lanchester fill
the screen, we’re actually watching a terrific movie for a few seconds. Then,
alas, it’s “Twilight” time again.