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Bella's suitors tussle in The Twilight Saga: Eclipse
Three's company

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I would've pegged high-schooler Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) as a Sylvia Plath fan - this is a girl with daddy issues, for sure - but it's Robert Frost she quotes in the beginning minutes of The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, the third film in the Twilight series.

"Some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice," she reads aloud to her undead - although he doesn't look a day over 18 - boyfriend Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson). The fire-and-ice metaphor signals early that the dominant dramatic struggle of this installment will be Bella's push-pull between two suitors, her hot-blooded wolf friend Jacob (Taylor Lautner) and her cold-to-touch vampire beau Edward.

The two rivals bicker and tussle like schoolboys in a sandbox over a prized toy - and, really, for long stretches of the film, Bella might as well be an inanimate object. She's the narrator of this saga and nominally its heroine, but more often than not, she's just a bystander, referred to in third person even as she stands mere inches away.

Bella has always been a milquetoast - that much is a constant, both in Stephenie Meyer's source books and their feature-film adaptations; but what especially rankles here is that when the sexually curious Bella does try to take action, by initiating sex with Edward, she's swatted away, with Edward - the mouthpiece for Meyer's hectoring pro-abstinence message - murmuring paternalistically about her "virtue." (Vampires, a famously lusty lot, should consider a defamation suit; this neutered, even priggish portrayal can't be good for business.)

So, no action in the bedroom: Let slip the dogs of war, then. Make that wolves: When a vengeful vampire amasses against Edward an army of "newborns" (brand-new vampires who are especially bloodthirsty during their baby-steps phase), the outnumbered Cullen clan must strike an uneasy alliance with their longstanding enemies, Jacob's wolf pack. (The CG wolves, alas, have become less convincing, but they fit right in with the Cullens, who storm through the movie like poseable action figures with bad bleach jobs.) During this brief détente, Eclipse becomes more emphatic and more energized, especially when Lautner and Pattinson get a quiet mountaintop scene of teasing back-and-forth that's sparkier than any other configuration heretofore seen in this tormented love triangle.

Director David Slade (30 Days of Night) splits the difference between kick-starter Twilight's stylish camp and follow-up New Moon's turgid drama, and, as a piece, it's superior to the latter film. But the supposedly epic battle the entire film builds toward - the single action set-piece - is a ho-hummer. Fire and ice, turns out, was an oversell: Think tepid tap water instead.

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