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cast: John C. Reilly, Josh Hutcherson, Salma Hayek, Ken Watanabe, and Willem Dafoe
director: Paul Weitz
105 minutes (12) 2009
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Universal DVD Region 2 retail
review by James A. Stewart
Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant
It says it all about a film when the most memorable part of the whole experience is the opening credits, but alas, that much is true about Paul
Weitz's adaptation of Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant, based rather loosely on the book by Darren Shan, the Irish author who curiously
shares his name with film's main character and supposed hero.
Yes, the opening is quite excellent with brilliant art complimented by a wonderful soundtrack which has the heart racing and the audience thinking
they are about to see something significant. As it is, the Americanisation of the opening stories in Shan's 12-part Cirque du Freak series
leaves the film floundering in a sea of mediocrity.
The wooden acting of the two teen leads, Chris Massoglia as Darren, and Josh Hutcherson as Steve, is painful to bear at times. The two kids are
best buddies, but are poles apart in terms of home-life and attitude. Mr Tiny, a quite awful bad guy who comes across more as a sleazy pervert
than a fate shaping evildoer, influences Steve and Darren to visit the Cirque du Freak - an underground freak-show playing in a back alley theatre.
When there, Steve recognises Larten Crepsley (John C. Reilly) as a vampire and Darren becomes obsessed by the vampire's spider, and it is while he
is in the act of stealing the arachnid he overhears Steve asking to be turned into a vampire by Crepsley. The scene which follows as a 16-year-old
boy threatens revenge on a powerful vampire is ludicrous.
Things happen, most of them quite pointless and boring, and Darren is initiated as a half-vampire to save Steve's life. When his now former friend
finds out about Darren's change he is indignant. It sets in motion a chain of events which result in Steve joining Mr Tiny's entourage to become
a part of plans to bring the more human vampires to war with the bad-guy 'vampaneze', who kill for thrills. The resulting actions end a 200 year
Truth be known, Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant is a massive disappointment. The author declared himself happy with the outcome
but it is hard to see how the touch of Hollywood has benefited what is a quite brilliant series of books. In the age of cynical exploitation of
popular genres, it feels like the studio involved has decided to make a quick profit by fusing magical and vampiric elements, hamming up the love
interest and throwing in a bit of action. As the story wears on it starts to feel rushed and the pace stutters like a Norman Collier stand-up show.
What makes all of this more annoying is that Weitz has done remarkably well with Crepsley's character and John C. Reilly really takes centre-stage,
outshining the guys who are supposed to be leading this movie. Willem Dafoe is in the film for five minutes and you really wish it was longer, albeit
it is clear the whole thing is setup for a few sequels as the film spends quite a bit of time foreshadowing upcoming action which will only happen
if the sequels are made.
Salma Hayek as the Bearded Lady is rubbish at acting as usual but uses her favourite diversionary tactic of showing her ample cleavage in every
scene she appears quite well. Another highlight is Ken Watanabe as the Tall Man, he is excellent and strikes fear, demands respect and is likable
all at once. No mean feat.
Yep, Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant is pretty bland fare. Apart from a few notable performances it is all pretty forgettable,
except the opening credits.