The heightened tension of the love story --- mixed with killer fight sequences --- make "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse" the best film so far in the series.

The film, based on Stephenie Meyer's third book, works equally well as a love story and action film because of the first-rate work by director David Slade.

The love story continues the fight for the affections of Bella (Kristen Stewart) by her vampire love Edward (Robert Pattinson) and hopeless suitor Jacob (Taylor Lautner).

Slade manages to find time for all of the angles of this triangle to play out, culminating in a verbal showdown between the guys. The mix of serious tone and light comedy makes the romance interesting.

All of the scenes featuring Edward and Jacob work better than in the other films because Pattinson has such a strong handle on playing the moody Edward and Lautner has finally become comfortable enough in his buff skin as Jacob to be on an equal acting plane.

The director --- with the help of screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg --- balances the love story with well-staged action sequences from start to finish, including the final big showdown full of vampires and werewolves. Meyer's book loads most of the action in the last third of the book but Rosenberg sprinkles the action throughout.

Bouncing from the romance story to action this way magnifies the tension in both.

Because there's so much going on in "Eclipse," the film feels a little top heavy with extra players. Bella's high school buddies --- and even the feared Volturi --- have only a few lines more than the background extras.

Even with this small problem, Slade may have done too good a job. There are two more films planned in the series, but Slade plays out the romantic triangle and handles the threat to Bella with such skill that this could have served as a very pleasing finale.

The person who should be worried is Bill Condon, the director tapped for the two-part finale "Breaking Dawn." He's got a real challenge to make movies as good as "Eclipse."

review

'The Twilight Saga: Eclipse'

Starring: Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Kristen Stewart

Director: David Slade

Run time: 2 hours, 1 minute

Rated: PG-13, for violence, adult situations

Now playing at: Crossroads,

College Square, Waverly Palace

3 and a half out of 5 stars)

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