The freaks reduce the “Vampire’s Assistant’s” suck factor
Proving yet again the difficulty of making a vampire movie that teenagers will find entertainingly creepy and that their parents will still approve of, we have “Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant.” The film, based on the series of books by Darren Shan, can be applauded for its ambitions while still maintaining a PG-13 rating. There are plenty of good elements here, but a lack of cohesion and a lackluster performance by the lead actor make the film at best a decent rental.
The central characters are Darren (Chris Massoglia) and Steve (Josh Hutcherson), curious choices since the handsome Massoglia has little screen presence and the talented, baby-faced Hutcherson (“Zathura,” “Bridge to Terabithia”) would seem better suited in the sympathetic lead rather than the tough, rebellious friend he plays here. The two are best friends who sneak out to a traveling freak show where Darren steals a rare breed of spider from vampire Larten Crepsley (John C. Reilly of “Chicago”).
In order to save his friend Steve, who has been bitten by the lethal arachnid, Darren agrees to become a “half-vampire” and act as Crepsley’s assistant. The film takes some liberties with vampire traditions, but suffice to say Darren gains some superhuman abilities. While he doesn’t completely “die,” he must leave his family behind in order to join the troupe of freaks and help ward off the bloodthirsty “Vampeneze.”
The interesting supporting characters are the highlights. In addition to Reilly’s likeably campy performance, cameos by Willem Dafoe, Salma Hayek, Michael Cerveris, Ray Stevenson, Patrick Fugit, and youngster Jessica Carlson add spark to a script that really doesn’t go anywhere. (Surprising, especially because director-writer Paul Weitz also helmed the terrific “In Good Company,” and “About a Boy.”)
It’s likely that this is a setup story for what the filmmakers hope is a series of films. But while the movie admirably fills a niche between the “Harry Potter” films and the “Twilight” series, it is likely not scary (or interesting) enough to win very many passionate followers who would demand a sequel. But even those mega-popular films struggled in their first installments, so it’s no stretch to say there are enough good things going on with “Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant” to see if a follow-up will kick it up a notch in both action and pace.
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense supernatural violence and action, disturbing images, thematic elements and some language.