Twilight would be the same movie with or without vampires. Edward is attracted to Bella because she smells delicious, but he could just as easily have been attracted to her because she’s really super-hot. Bella on the other hand, is attracted to Edward for the same reason all teenage girls seem to be attracted to bad boys. I don’t know what that reason is, but the female lust for jerks is something of a universal constant, and it’s on full display here. This is a story of a nice girl attracted to a brooding, edgy, asshole. The vampire stuff is there only to provide a little extra eye candy, it’s almost a gimmick, but the shallow romance themes in play are timeless, ageless, and they work well enough. It’s a film sure to make 16-year-old girls and women who think Matthew McConaughey is sexy, squeal with delight.

Bella is the new girl at school, having moved to the gloomy, rainy state of Washington to live with her father. Her relationship with dad is something of a footnote in the film, but it’s more realistic than you’d expect. Family is something Twilight seems to understand, whether it’s a human father and his daughter or a coven of friendly vampires.

It’s not long before Bella falls in with a crowd of those blood-suckers, living right out in the open. These vamps don’t seem to have fangs and sunlight is only a problem because it reveals their true nature. When hit by a sunbeam, their skin looks like someone went crazy on them with a bedazzler. Or at least it’s supposed to, the movie’s limited effects budget makes it more of a half-hearted twinkle.

Edward Cullen is Bella’s window into the vampire world. When she meets him he’s her lab partner, and he treats her like garbage. This of course makes her extremely interested, so she pursues him. Soon we learn that he’s been avoiding her because he’s a vampire, and she smells so delicious he’s not sure he can keep from eating her. He’s from a family of vampire vegetarians, blood suckers who do their best to avoid chowing down on humans, sticking to animals instead. Bella finds this all terribly romantic and she’s instantly in love with Edward. Edward returns her affections, perhaps a victim of his own vampire compulsions since it’s hard to see any reason for him to fall in love with her. Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson seem perfectly suited to their roles, that is to say they’re good at playing pale, besotted, empty-headed teenagers. Pattinson even manages to pull off being a teenager with bite.

Before long there’s strife, less friendly vampires come to town and Edward must protect Bella from becoming someone else’s meal. That’s not really the point of this movie though. It’s not an action flick or a vampire horror movie so much as a brooding romance film. When it does attempt action the pic’s limited special effects budget isn’t up to it, and they’re forced to find ways around doing anything too ambitious. The movie’s best scenes instead, seem to happen when Bella and Edward are simply hanging out with his pale, vampiric clan. A vampire baseball game provides something of interest, and getting a feel for how the Cullen’s survive undiscovered yet out in the open is worth your time.

Director Catherine Hardwicke deserves a lot of credit for keeping Twilight away from the crash and burn it probably deserves. This is fairly shallow material which, with an oversized blank check budget might have been massaged into a legitimate movie. Unfortunately Hardwicke didn’t have a bigger budget and is forced to do the best she can with what she has. The result is a film which feels more like the pilot for a television series than a cinematic experience. There’s just not enough going on here. On television Twilight could have been the new Beauty & the Beast and critics might have hailed it as one of the best things on TV. As a movie it’s merely not terrible. Fans of the book series on which it is based will no doubt throw themselves at it with energy and lavish it with praise, for anyone else it’s forgettable but not particularly painful.

Josh Tyler