Story last updated at 11/25/2008 - 4:36 pm
"Twilight" is about a girl who falls desperately in love with a handsome teenage vampire, so you have to accept some storytelling liberties. Wait, there are vampires who drive convertibles?
But the film works because it's so refreshingly matter-of-fact about its fantastical story. It doesn't hurt either that it's romantic, smart, likable and often quite funny, without any tacked-on snarkiness or desperate hipness.
This adaptation of the first book in Stephenie Meyers' hugely popular series is aimed right at its fans, and it does not let them down.
It's about Bella Swan, the new girl in perpetually rainy Forks, Wash., who falls for Edward Cullen, her lab partner in Biology.
Sure, he's on "a special diet." He has cold hands. And he skips school on sunny days. But he's gorgeous - that pale skin, those strange eyes - and mysterious, plus he saves her life a couple of times. And he broods as intensely as Mr. Darcy in "Pride and Prejudice," though for not nearly as long.
Twilight is as forthright as its heroine, who comes across as an appealingly real teenager, pensive and intelligent. The story doesn't fuss around with phony complications and teases: It makes the points it wants to without much dawdling.
And Bella is bright enough that she figures out what Edward is with just a few clues and a simple Google search.
"How long have you been 17?" she asks him.
"A while," he admits.
Edward protests that he's not good for her, mostly because he's awfully tempted to drain her of blood. But Bella is sure enough of her own mind and heart that she doesn't see this whole vampire as that big a stumbling block.
"I don't have the strength to stay away from you anymore," says Edward.
"Then don't," says Bella.
Director Catherine Hardwicke has made a couple of gritty, realistic movies, "Thirteen" and "Lords of Dogtown," that get at the exhilarating and disorienting effects of being a teenager. She brings that sensibility to "Twilight," which - though it has some special effects - is more concerned with matters of the young heart.
Her cast is terrific. As Bella, Kristen Stewart of "Into the Wild" gives one of the best performances of the year. It seems effortless, which is no doubt credit to the work involved in seeming so authentic.
And Robert Pattinson (a British actor who was Cedric Diggory in the Harry Potter movies) is more than up to his job as the impossibly perfect vampire. He could have been annoyingly smug, but he manages to find both humor and passion in his situation.
There's also a solid, amusing cast of supporting actors, both human, vampire and werewolf (though that barely comes up in this installment).
"Twilight" builds to a biggish action finish that isn't quite as appealing as went before. Indeed, its fans are more likely to swoon over the tender moments in which Bella, in the best vampire movies, offers her exposed neck to Edward.
He, gentleman vampire that he is, has to fight the temptation to sink his fangs into her. And that makes a fine case that restraint is more tantalizing than just jumping right in.
3 ½ stars out of 4. Starring Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson. Directed by Catherine Hardwicke. Based on Stephenie Meyers' book. 1 hour, 58 minutes. Rated PG-13 for some violence and a little sensuality.