Halloween has come and gone, but not every bump in the night received their due notice. Hollywood’s obsession with vampires is definitely not fleeting as seen in the multitude of over-exposed bloodsuckers. The newest edition from out of the coffin is director Paul Weitz’s Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant, an adaptation of a popular children’s series.
Although the title specifies the prominence of pointy teeth creatures, the film is centered on a traveling circus-style freak show, ranging from a monkey-girl to a serpent-boy. One of the acts is John C. Reilly, who plays a 200 year-old vampire named Larten Crepsley with a knack for entertaining. He is both buffoonish and endearing as the mentor to his young assistant. His garb is blatantly over the top, sporting bright, wild orange hair and a velvet purple suit and the opposite of his nature. As an experienced vampire, he has come to terms with his existence and ever-lasting life until things go awry at a show.
The story begins with two best friends, Darren (Chris Massoglia) and Steve (Josh Hutcherson), acting on their curiosity and attending the show one evening, finding themselves enthralled by the acts, especially Reilly as Larten Crepsley, the gloomy vampire with moral values. Eventually Reilly’s character will mentor Darren, teaching him how to use his powers to avoid trouble and possibly death. These life lessons are important, as Steve seems to be taking a much different and darker path than his best friend. As the title of the film states, it is about a group of misfits who rely on each other to live a somewhat normal life. Darren, the young teenager, must adapt to this new lifestyle as a vampire assistant and member of the cirque.
This film is clever and has humorous moments throughout, thanks particularly to Reilly’s acting chops, yet becomes jumbled with unrefined storylines and shallow character development. Yes, it is fun at many points but it’s very obvious that the filmmakers had a difficult time trying to combine all the plot elements of the original book series. Some fanciful scenes seem drawn out, while other important dialogue scenes seem chopped out of the final cut altogether. Cirque du Freak has some interesting special effects as well, displaying vampire special powers and freaky characters in the troupe, but again can’t sail this ship.
The other sideshow acts, including Salma Hayek as a fortune teller/bearded lady, are entertaining and by far the best scene is the actual show the two boys attend, focusing on the crazy world of the cirque. Unfortunately, the freaks seem to become part of the backdrop as the vampire storyline takes over, wielding the film into already charted vampire drama.
Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant endeavors to unveil a new story but instead becomes lost in the surface of it’s title, becoming a pre-packaged installment in the vampire mania.