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Before its release, “New Moon” set box office records. According to Fandango, it had the biggest ticket pre-sale in movie history.

Even if audiences hate it, it’ll still make money.

But even though its melodramatics often border on the laughable, “New Moon” should please its legion of moonstruck teenage fans.

For the uninitiated, “New Moon” is the second in the phenomenally popular “Twilight” series, based on the books by Stephanie Meyer. It focuses on a romance between a teenage girl named Bella (Kristen Stewart from “Adventureland”) and a reluctant vampire, Edward (Robert Pattinson from “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”).

Because he’s constantly putting Bella’s life at risk (and, frankly, would like to drain her of blood), Edward decides that he must end the relationship and abandons Bella’s Pacific Northwest hometown with the rest of his vampire family.

Despondent and suffering from bad nightmares, Bella shrinks away from her friends…except for one special boy, a Native American named Jacob (Taylor Lautner from “Cheaper by the Dozen 2”).

But soon, the friendship between Bella and Jacob heats up. But just as Jacob begins the fill the hole in Bella’s life left by Edward’s absence, Jacob pulls the same stunt. He tells Bella that they can’t see one another anymore, for her own good.

Turns out, he’s a werewolf. (Some girls are just naturally attracted to bad boys.)

It seems that there’s a tenuous truce between the vampires and werewolves and the three-way tension between Bella, Edward and Jacob could jeopardize everything.

Director Chris Weitz, who also is responsible for the movie adaptation of another popular fantasy book, “The Golden Compass,” really knows how to stretch out a scene. There are longing glances, pregnant pauses and near kisses that never quite reach the lips.

But he manages to create a certain sense of danger in spite of the fact that we know that the leads aren’t going to die.

The sometimes-awkward dialogue by screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg (“Step Up”) is given an earnest delivery by the likable cast.

A couple of terrific actors (Dakota Fanning and Michael Sheen) show up in small supporting roles…and they’re mostly wasted. (Sheen, who also appeared in “Underworld,” is undoubtedly the only actor to have appeared in two different ‘Vampire-Vs.-Werewolves’ sagas.)

In spite of its flaws, “New Moon” has a certain “Romeo and Juliet” appeal. It walks a tightrope, always threatening to fall into ridiculous melodrama. But for the most part, it manages to maintain its balance. (PG-13) Rating: ***

* Avoid at all costs
** Only if you're bored
*** Good movie
**** Well worth your time
***** Be sure to see it

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