‘Twilight’ Vamps With Gore, Lust; Mirren’s ‘Love Ranch’: Movies

To capitalize on the current vampire craze, Summit Entertainment is releasing the third “Twilight” film in 20 months. Bloodsucking is big business these days.

The first two movies grossed $1.1 billion, and “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” is guaranteed to be another blockbuster. Two more installments are planned for fans who can’t get enough of the series based on the best-selling books by Stephenie Meyer.

I’m not one of them. Though “Eclipse” is better than the second movie and on par with the first, that’s hardly great praise. While the three films have had different directors -- the latest is David Slade, whose “30 Days of Night” also was a vampire tale -- they share the same defects: languorous pacing, cardboard characters, soap-opera dialogue and stilted acting.

Slade brings more energy and technical flair, especially in the elaborate chase and battle scenes. Yet no amount of action can overcome the syrupy love triangle that dominates the movie, one that features an endless stream of yearning looks, passionate kisses and corny speeches.

In “Eclipse,” Bella (Kristen Stewart) must choose between vegan vampire Edward (Robert Pattinson) and hunky werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner). The former offers immortality with her true soulmate, the latter a more normal life with a nice guy who likes to show off his bodybuilder physique by going shirtless.

Newborn Army

Here’s the catch: To stay with Edward, who remains forever young, Bella must become a vampire herself, a transformation that would estrange her from her family and drastically alter her eating habits. Though he loves her, Edward thinks Bella might be better off remaining human, even though that would mean continuing to live in a hick town with her mollycoddling police- chief dad.

Meanwhile, Edward and his family must deal with the invasion of the Newborn Army, a group of young, super- powerful vampires who may be controlled by the vengeful Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard) or the Volturi, an ancient vampire coven in Italy. Despite their rivalry for Bella’s affection, Edward and Jacob form an alliance to fight the Newborns, whose assault results in decapitations, incinerations and other gory means of dispatch.

Needless to say, all the main characters live to fight -- or bite -- another day.

“The Twilight Saga: Eclipse,” from Summit Entertainment, opens today across the U.S. Rating: **

‘Love Ranch’

Helen Mirren is quite a Dame in “Love Ranch,” where she plays a married whorehouse madam whose affair with an Argentine boxer leads to murder.

Mirren won an Oscar for her performance as Queen Elizabeth II in “The Queen” and carries the prestigious title of Dame Commander in the U.K. Her role in “Love Ranch,” a hackneyed drama directed by her husband Taylor Hackford and co-starring Joe Pesci,” is far less grand.

Loosely based on the true story of Joe and Sally Conforte, who ran the legal Mustang Ranch brothel near Reno, Nevada, in the 1970s, it’s as dreary as the trailer-park desert setting.

Mirren, one of my favorite actresses, is miscast as the fur-coat wearing madam trapped in a passionless marriage with a hot-tempered, pseudo cowboy (Pesci) who likes to sample the goods at his own bordello.

Ali Opponent

Pesci does a scaled-down, second-rate version of the temperamental tough guys he played in “Goodfellas” and “Casino.” Sergio Peris-Mencheta, the beefy Spaniard who plays the sensitive boxer with the tragic past, acts about as well as he boxes -- which isn’t a compliment. (His character is based on Oscar Bonavena, a bull-like boxer who fought Muhammad Ali and had a fling with Sally Conforte.)

Hackford, who directed “Ray” and “An Officer and a Gentleman,” is saddled with a punchless script by Mark Jacobson that manages to turn a real-life tabloid dream into a stiff melodrama. The choppy editing and grainy cinematography contribute to the desolate mood, which seeps from the screen into the audience.

“Love Ranch,” from E1 Entertainment, opens today in New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, Washington and San Francisco. Rating: *1/2

What the Stars Mean:

****          Excellent
***           Good
**            Average
*             Poor
(No stars)    Worthless

(Rick Warner is the movie critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer on the story: Rick Warner in New York at rwarner1@bloomberg.net.

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