Hot and Bothered 

Twilight puts teen heartthrobs at angsty arm's length.

She: high school junior just relocated to Forks, Washington, to live with her nonverbal, sheriff dad. She's pretty and quiet and accident-prone and trying to make some new friends. And then she sees him walk into the cafeteria.

He: high school junior who lives with his mysterious, monochromatic-clothed family in the countryside. He's got bleach-white skin and purple lips and gold-looking eyes below smirk-shaped eyebrows, and he looks tortured by how sensitive he is. And then he sees her.

Unless you've been living in a world without Entertainment Weekly or teenage girls, then you know that she is Bella and he is Edward, and they are the hottest couple to happen to romantic fiction since Heathcliff and Catherine. Or something like that.

They star in Stephenie Meyer's book series, of which Twilight is the first. And now it's a movie. And how is it you don't know about this?

Well, in case you don't, here it is: Bella (Kristen Stewart) is a girl, and she loves and is loved by Edward (Robert Pattinson). But there's a cactus in their relationship corner. You see, Edward's a vampire.

That's about all you need to know, except that I've hardly ever seen as much excitement from a movie audience as I did for Twilight. At a recent preview screening filled with teenage girls, every beloved line and character and moment from the book was greeted with cheering and huzzahs. When Edward says, "I don't have the strength to stay away from you anymore," the theater was swoon city. There were more girlish squeals than the opening night of a Star Wars prequel. It was contagious. I may have plotzed a little about Edward, as well. What can I say? I'm a sucker for Claire de Lune too.

The Twilight series is what has been filling teen consciousness since Harry Potter exited stage right. I've read all the Potters and have only seen but not read Twilight, so take this with a grain of salt: Meyer's story isn't a seventh as clever as J.K. Rowling's. Twilight lacks all the little details and crackerjack fabulosities that make Rowling's tale behave like the fantastical real world it's supposed to be. Also gone is any sense of wonderment the audience might be given over the lead character's induction into a hidden "world behind the world." Instead, it's all just taken in stride, fairly ho-hum.

What Twilight has is super hot, sexy reciprocal obsession between a man and a woman. Or a girl and a 100-year-old vampire. Whatever. Love has rarely been so urgent, so angsty, so perilous, so breathsucking as that between Bella and Edward, which is how it feels when you're in the moment, so score one for Twilight.

And there's also a super hot, sexy chaste obsession. Oh, sure, they kiss. Twice. But Bella and Edward don't get past first base.

Twilight is directed by Catherine Hardwicke, who made the teens-in-peril Thirteen and the teens-in-purity The Nativity Story. In Twilight, Hardwicke splits the difference. Bella's life is literally in danger the closer she gets to Edward. He may not be able to stop himself once he gets going. And so they hover near each other for two hours, breathing each other's air and keeping their hands to themselves.

Therein lies my one true gripe with Twilight. The plot keeps the couple in an annoying push-pull limbo; Edward keeps coming up to Bella and telling her to leave him alone. Hardwicke reinforces it as the characters are constantly moving toward and away from each other, even in casual conversation, and the camera moves toward one at the expense of the other. Hardwicke's direction is like a game of one-upsmanship. Toss in the many tight close-ups, and it makes you want to shake some sense into these kids.

It's also got a Google-search/dream-sequence montage, for heaven's sake, and a totally silly baseball action scene, but none of it really matters. Twilight is totally critic-proof.

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