Movie Review: Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant
The Vampire’s Assistant is based on the first three books in a series of twelve by Darren Shan. Like the Twilight series, The Vampire’s Assistant books are targeted towards young adults, and naturally this movie is as well.
If you are not a tweener, or a fan of the book series, it is best to steer clear of this painfully bland adaptation. The movie seems entirely too self-aware of its target audience, and consequently it takes the safe route at every turn throughout the film. This results in a rather boring final product, despite some bright spots.
Darren (Chris Massoglia) and his friend Steve (Josh Hutcherson) sneak out one night to attend a freak show in their area. Ringmaster Mr. Tall (Ken Watanabe) introduces a plethora of captivating creatures, including a snake boy (Patrick Fugit of Almost Famous), a woman capable of spontaneously regenerating lobbed off limbs (30 Rock’s Jane Krakowski), a bearded lady/psychic (Salma Hayek), and a girl with freakishly large teeth (Kristen Schaal), amongst others. The opening scene featuring the freak show was my favorite part of the movie. It aptly portrays the shock, excitement and disgust that two young boys would feel the first time viewing such an event. It also had some very cool makeup/CGI effects. Having been a fan of the original Freaks (1932) I tend to delight in this subject matter, and I was not disappointed.
This is also when we get to meet Larten Crepsley, wonderfully played by John C. Reilly. If you do not fall into the categories mentioned above (tweeners, book fans), Reilly is the sole reason to see the film. Playing a world weary vampire, he is just fantastic. You’ll find no sparkling, beautiful vampires here. He looks more like a strung out heroin addict who just stuck his finger in a light socket, and he is very funny.
Crepsley appears in the show with a gigantic spider named octa, that he directs with a flute. Steve believes that he recognizes Crepsley as a vampire from the books he reads. Darren steals the spider which delivers a lethal bite to his friend Steve. Darren visits Crepsley hoping to get an antidote. He agrees to become a “half vampire” and assistant to Crepsley in exchange for his friend’s life. After staging his death, he goes to live among the freaks, who adopt him into their odd family.
There is precious little story to the movie. We are introduced to warring factions of vampires–the regular Vampires and the Vampaneze. Vampaneze kill their human victims, while the regular Vampires are a little more polite and only feed enough to survive. A robust man ironically named Mr. Tiny (a padded Michael Cerveris) shows up with his menacing sidekick from time to time, and he obviously has some interest in the Vampaneze, though it is not made entirely clear what that is.
Darren’s friend Steve gets lured to the dark Vampaneze side, and it is clear that Darren and Steve will be warring in future movies.
Along the way, Darren is mentored by Crepsley in the ways of the Vampire, and Darren befriends a girl in the circus camp with a monkey tale. It is nice to see the potential love interest monkey girl (sweetly played by Jessica Carlson) is a regular teenaged girl. No obligatory blond hair or enhanced body parts here. She’s cute the way real teens are supposed to be, and I found it refreshing.
The things I liked about this movie I really liked. The sets are gorgeous, the freaks are fun, the special effects were good. However, I just felt the lead acting performance and the movie in general were just okay. For a movie that starts out with an awesome freak show, that’s a pity. The potential for something great was definitely there, it just got suffocated by all the scattered intentions of director Paul Weitz (American Pie, About a Boy).
That being said, I think teenagers will love this movie, if they haven’t suffered from Vampire fatigue yet.