At The Picture Show
One and done
'Cirque du Freak' dies a quick and painless cinematic death
Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant
Director: Paul Weitz
Screenplay: Paul Weitz and Brian Helgeland
Starring: John C. Reilly, Chris Massoglia, Josh Hutcherson, Michael Cerveris,
Jessica Carlson, Patrick Fugit, Ken Watanabe, Willem Dafoe and Salma Hayek
Rated PG-13 / 1 hour, 49 minutes
(out of four)
With Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant, director Paul Weitz has done
what his brother Chris accomplished just two years ago - make sure that a popular
book franchise dies a cinematic death after just one movie.
Surely the studios had visions of beloved, blockbuster franchises dancing in their
heads when they commissioned Chris to take on Philip Pullman's His Dark
Materials: The Golden Compass, which was both a critical and commercial failure.
(Though, it should be noted, it did contain the most hilarious unintentional sexual
innuendo in recent memory. But I digress.)
Now, Paul has taken on the first - and last - attempt
at adapting Darren Shan's 12-book series, The Saga of Darren Shan, with similarly
unimpressive results. No doubt Universal was hoping for a vampire franchise to
call their own - if not a direct rival to Summit Entertainment's Twilight juggernaut
(whose second entry, ironically, is directed by Chris Weitz), then at least a spunky
But Cirque du Freak is doomed to slip into oblivion, if it hasn't already. This is
one of those movies that shows all the signs of tampering at the expense of artistic
integrity - a slew of recognizable actors who make little to no narrative impact but
presumably "sell tickets," a story watered down to its bullet points and pushed
along at an economical 100 minutes or so, discount-store CGI, etc.
On the plus side, Salma Hayek is in the film, so it has two things going for it right
there. But as a whole, The Vampire's Assistant is, simply, a poor example of basic
storytelling. We're introduced to two characters - 16-year-olds Darren (Chris
Massoglia) and Steve (Josh Hutcherson), who are not only BFFs but polar
opposites. Darren is the Good Son and Steve is the Bad Influence - and by "bad,"
I mean he skips an occasional class to throw rocks on the roof, and wears gel in his
hair. (Ack! Lock your doors! Hide your children!)
One day they get invited to a traveling freak show
and unwittingly become involved in an ongoing feud between vampires (who do
not kill humans) and the vampanese (who do).
Steve, who has always had an obsession with vampires, asks the Cirque's de facto
alpha dog, a 200-year-old vampire named Larten Crepsley (John C. Reilly) if he
can become a vampire himself, but he is turned down - though Darren has the
opposite fate, much to Steve's chagrin. Darren gets to become a vampire and not
him? Needless to say, this Bad Kid will not take such a slight lying down.
You can see where this all is going. While Darren is in league with Crepsley,
Steve joins forces with Mr. Tiny (Michael Cerveris), the odious puppetmaster of
the pending feud between the vampires and vampanese. The problem is that the
film's storytelling approach relies solely on mechanical efficiency. Getting from
one point to the next. And so the movie was doomed from the get-go.
Especially in fantasies and other stylized realities, half the point should be to
experience the world that has been created for us. In Cirque du Freak, we see
plenty, but we don't experience any of it.
It doesn't help that we have a complete void at the
center of the story. Our angsty teenager-turned-vampire protagonist is played by
newcomer Chris Massoglia, who might as well be playing the Invisible Man for all
the screen presence and expressiveness he has. Then there's Hutcherson, who was
promising in Zathura and Bridge to Terabithia, but in a role that requires a nasty
edge, he offers nothing.
The cast is rounded out by a slew of recognizable performers like Reilly, Hayek,
Willem Dafoe, Ken Watanabe, Orlando Jones and Jane Krakowski - none of
whom, with the exception of Reilly, are given enough screen time or character
development to have any impact. Then again, nothing in this movie does.
Read more by Chris Bellamy