Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant
dir Paul Weitz
scr Paul Weitz, Brian Helgeland
prd Ewan Leslie, Lauren Shuler Donner
with Chris Massoglia, John C Reilly, Josh Hutcherson, Salma Hayek, Willem Dafoe, Ken Watanabe, Jessica Carlson, Patrick Fugit, Michael Cerveris, Ray Stevenson, Frankie Faison, Jane Krakowski
release US/UK 23.Oct.09
09/US Universal 1h48
Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant
Welcome to the show: Hutcherson and Massoglia

reilly hayek dafoe
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant Based on the books by Darren Shan, this film is an introduction to a franchise, with the coloned title and preparatory storyline. It has a lively, engaging plot that keeps us engaged, even if it is yet another vampire romp.

Darren (Massoglia) is an A-student 16-year-old whose best pal Steve (Hutcherson) keeps getting him into trouble. When they hear about the underground Cirque du Freak, they can't resist a visit. There they meet ringmaster Mr Tall (Watanabe), bearded seer Truska (Hayek) a snake boy (Fugit), monkey girl (Carlson) and many more. But soon they're entangled with the show's star, vampire Crepsley (Reilly), and his mortal enemy Mr Tiny (Cerveris). And when Crepsley makes Darren a vampire, Steve gets so jealous that he joins the other side.

The plot's like a comical, teen-friendly version of True Blood, as the central conflict is between vampires who don't kill humans and the "vampirese" who do. But instead dark and gothic, the filmmakers keep things light and often wacky. Everyone cracks jokes, the violence isn't too grisly, and the characters and plot only get mildly shadowy. Although there is some serious subtext, mainly some bleak moments involving Steve's personal journey.

It of course helps that the cast is this colourful and talented. Reilly is marvellously tetchy as Crepsley, trying to teach the reluctant Darren the ropes while fending off Mr Tiny's scheme and resisting a romance with Truska. Hayek manages to create a bit more of a character than the cartoonish, cameo-style roles given to Dafoe, Krakowski, Fugit and others. And the teen trio are engaging and watchable, although only Hutcherson is required to show any real acting chops (which we already know he has).

As the big conflict boils over into a major showdown, the chain of events doesn't make very clear sense. Why does Mr Tiny bother with Darren when he already has Steve? Why do they play this sadistic game with hostages when previous scenes show them to be more ruthless than this? Less-demanding viewers won't care about these things, and it's likely that the next episode will deepen everything considerably. Sure, this light approach keeps it entertaining, but it also prevents it from being a classic.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 20.Oct.09

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© 2009 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall