Somehow the Twilight films are getting worse. The more money Summit spends on them, the shittier they become. The first film was bad, but had a ragged charm all its own. The second film, New Moon, was a turgid disaster that finally sputtered out with a complete non-climax. And now the third, Eclipse, is just a tedious slog fit only for the most devoted Twihards. Boring, stupid and utterly squandering the concept of a vampire army fighting werewolves, Eclipse makes New Moon look like a snappy screwball comedy.

Eclipse is a movie where people just stand around talking at each other, delivering the plot and the absurdly minimalist character progression in expositiony chunks. Edward and Bella, now looking to get married, have no less than seven hundred ninety two discussions about why Bella becoming a vampire could be a bad idea. There are a scant four hundred sixty eight conversations between Bella and Jacob about how much he loves her, and how she will come to see that she loves him too. And the movie just keeps going like that, a series of stagnant two-handers that feel like your soap opera-addicted Aunt Edna decided to turn her daily stories into Off-Off-Off-Broadway theater. Like Boise, Idaho Off-Broadway theater.

Some people may be fooled into thinking that Eclipse is watchable because of increased production value – the huge fuzzy CGI werewolves look better this time – and because of a handful of flashbacks that almost threaten to add scope to this claustrophobic world made up entirely of self-absorbed bores. But they’re wrong. This film is not watchable. It’s a mess, a slow and painful mess that is almost like anti-cinema.

I don’t even know where to start. The source material, obviously, is awful. The script, once again by Melissa Rosenberg, is faithful to a fault. If Rosenberg were a good writer she would have taken Stephenie Meyer’s seemingly endless scenes of idiots talking and reworked them into at least scenes of idiots doing something interesting while talking. Director David Slade is of no help, having seemingly lost the touch that made a previous movie about two people just talking - Hard Candy - so electric. Slade mostly establishes the setting, introduces the characters, has them talk at each other in various close-ups, and then cuts to the next boring scene. He throws in a couple of things here and there – the aforementioned flashbacks to the Pioneer era, the Civil War and some Flapper bullshit – but every dialogue scene feels like he’s just biding his time to get to one of the very, very few action scenes.

Slade’s exhaustingly mundane direction is in no way helped by the actors. Kristen Stewart stumbles her way through the movie, essaying perhaps the single most despicable female hero in history (seriously, there’s a scene at the end on a mountain top where she seems to just be fucking with Edward and Jacob’s heads for the hell of it). Robert Pattinson morphs into Luke Perry right before our eyes, but with half the 90210 star’s charisma or talent. Pattinson is, to his credit, a touch looser here than in previous film – he seems to have made peace with this bullshit and is trying to keep himself amused. Taylor Lautner, meanwhile, is mostly embarrassing. He comes across like a smart alecky rentboy, all shirtless poses and dense, sub-intellectual eyes. Lautner appears to have bought his own hype and he just keeps acting the shit out of every scene, filling every line reading with pulsating, hammy, unearned intensity. It’s almost fascinating watching Lautner and Pattinson square off in a number of scenes, with the vampire essentially reducing his entire performance to shrugs and eyebrows set askew while the werewolf brings the simmering force of a hundred thousand high school Hamlets.

Eclipse basically treads a whole bunch of the same ground we went over in the last terrible movie, except this time Jacob keeps coming across like a rapist in training. There’s supposed to be a love triangle between Bella, Edward and Jacob, but there is so little sexual chemistry between Stewart and Lautner that no tension exists at all. You don’t have to be spoiled on what’s coming next to know that there’s not a chance in hell that Bella and Jacob end up together, and as you’re sitting through two hours of this shit you wonder why anybody even bothered filming this garbage. It’s Foregone Conclusion: The Motion Picture. 

There is, in a vague sense, a larger plot to this film. Victoria, the redheaded evil vampire from the previous films (now played by Bryce Dallas Howard) is gathering an army of Newborn vampires to come fuck up Bella and her friends. Meanwhile, the ludicrous looking Volturi, who appear to be a group of tweens with a penchant for LARPing, are kind of hanging around, being all not menacing and stuff. Like New Moon the plot takes a backseat to the terrible writing and hateful characters; the movie occasionally flashes to a soundstage that Slade would really, really like us to believe is Seattle, but the vampire army doesn’t really show up until the last few minutes of the movie. There’s no tension here either because it quickly becomes obvious that this sorry excuse for a script is going to keep dragging the vampire army story along as long as it can.

The few action scenes rise above the rest of the film to the level of generic. Slade’s happy to undercrank and shake the camera and have a whole bunch of almost literally anonymous vampires fight some CGI wolves and our more metaphorically anonymous vampire heroes for five or so minutes. There are a couple of moments here and there, but not enough to rescue the film; the vampires turn to marble or something when they’re killed and they can shatter, so you would think a horror guy like Slade would take advantage of the bloodless possibilities for PG-13 mayhem. Spoiler: he doesn’t. There are a couple of neato beheadings, but mostly it’s just repeated scenes of vampires clotheslining each other (this appears to be the vampire’s number one move – running at full speed at one another and then clotheslining each other). 

Eclipse is probably going to get a reputation as the subversive film, or the self-aware one – there are a couple of self-referential jokes that characters crack, including Edward asking if Jacob owns a shirt. Most of the laughs remain unintentional, though; I couldn’t help but giggle at almost every shot of the Cullen family, who look like nothing so much as a troupe of silent movie actors with their faces slathered in white pancake make-up. Jackson Rathbone remains my favorite; he stares around wide-eyed like a brain-damaged lizard, and this time he becomes severely Southern while recounting his secret origin from the Civil War. Every time that guy pops up on screen I laugh. Peter Facinelli, playing Poppa Cullen with all the gravitas of a mayonaise sandwich, comes in a close second. And you haven’t lived until you’ve watched the incredible, awful, bizarre and retarded ‘Jacob needs to snuggle with Bella while Edward watches’ scene. I swear the last time I saw this level of ineptness in a major studio release it involved Mark Wahlberg running from the wind (disclosure: I think The Happening is a brilliant piece of bad cinema. I do not feel the same way about Eclipse). 

Three films in and I remain baffled by the popularity of this franchise. This story is not good, these characters are flat and dull, the mythology is generic and derivative, the romantic themes are centuries outdated. And that’s just the books – the films are possibly even worse, because at least it only took Stephenie Meyers to write a bad book. Eclipse is the result of poor work from many actors, the writer, the director, and the producers. The only people who come out looking good are the below the line employees, as Eclipse is the most polished looking of all the Twilight movies. But you know what they say about polished turds, right? They’re still Twilight movies.

2 out of 10