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Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant (2009)

Circus of the Freak

Meet Darren. He's sixteen going on immortal.

Directed by:

Paul Weitz

Rating: 4/10

Running Time: 109 minutes

US Certificate: PG-13 UK Certificate: 12A

Country: United States

Just in case you haven’t noticed, there are a lot of vampires skulking around lately. I blame Twilight, because most of the vamps of late are more angst than bloodsuck, which just defeats the purpose in my book—I mean, seriously, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” had more death and destruction than these guys! And so it goes with the vampires of Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant—they’re the freakin’ friendly undead who only snack on people’s blood.

Darren Shan (Chris Massoglia) is a pretty normal 16-year-old guy—in fact, he’s pretty unremarkable. Then one day, he and his vampire-obsessed best friend Steve (Josh Hutcherson) get a flyer about a freak show making its way through town, and depending on your point of view, it’s all either up or downhill from there. Darren ends up being a half-vampire, joining the Cirque du Freaks, and is forced to choose between living his new “life” as one of the “good” vampires with mentor Larten Crepsley (John C. Reilly) or turning to the baddies and going all bloodlust as one of the dreaded Vampaneze.

This is a movie that’s just full of flaws, but the biggest disappointment is that it never seems to figure out what audience it wants to commit to. Admittedly, I know nothing about the series of books from whence this came, but it seems they’re aimed at the “tween” crowd (a horrible term, by the way), which is, from what I hear, ages 9 to 14. That’s a pretty diverse range, but the action reflects that lack of focus. There are some humorous moments, and there are some pseudo-scary moments, and there are some heavy-handed life lessons—there’s sap and scary. Nothing ever flows, though, and where it could have gone for a good tweaking of the vampire genre (like the scene we see in the trailer in which Reilly assesses the validity of the bat myth), it doesn’t. Nor does it go as magical as it could—or even as good vs. evil as it could. So much is wasted here; somehow, they were able to gather not only Reilly, but Salma Hayek, Willem Dafoe, Jane Krakowski, and Ken Watanabe, but save for Reilly (who actually is pretty good as the non-evil vampire teaching his new charge the ways of the undead world), none of them are seen for more than a few minutes of screen time combined. Instead, the majority of the film is spent with Massoglia’s Darren, who seems like a nice enough fellow but is so uber-bland as to almost disappear from memory when the scene is over. That’s always a problem, but there were so many strings left dangling at the end of this film that it’s obvious someone’s looking to make a second installment, and with such a dull vamp boy leading the way, I’d really just rather stay home and watch my “Buffy” DVDs.

It's Got: A nifty looking spider, some funny moments, a whole lot of build-up

It Needs: To make better use of its talent, to figure out its intended audience, a more charismatic lead guy

Alternatives:

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, Twilight

Summary

An interesting story that doesn’t really deliver on its potential, this one may get in on the big vampire train making its way through pop culture, but its inability to find itself is disappointing.

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