Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant (2009)
Release Date: October 23rd, 2009 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Paul Weitz Actors: John C. Reilly, Ken Watanabe, Josh Hutcherson, Chris Massoglia, Ray Stevenson, Salma Hayek
ampires in movies are getting to be as prevalent as screaming girls at “Twilight” screenings. Luckily for “Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant,” a generous dose of humor and self-reflective mockery creates an atmosphere far more entertaining than those of the genre that try too hard to be serious. John C. Reilly as the mentor vampire might not seem like the most logical choice, but his comedic timing and acerbic delivery add a much appreciated layer of fun and cynical wit to the proceedings. And while the rather open-ended universe of freaks leaves plenty of questions unanswered, the sheer variety of mutants provides a never-ending array of visual amusement.
Straight-A, hard-working high school student Darren (Chris Massoglia) is best friends with trouble-making, delinquent Steve (Josh Hutcherson), even though Darren’s parents strongly disapprove. Darren is meant to live a happy, productive life: going to college, obtaining a job, and having a family – a role he doesn’t know if he’ll be comfortable with. When the two boys are given an ominous flyer for the Cirque du Freak show, a 500-year-old traveling entertainment group with some of the most bizarre oddities in the world, they sneak out to attend.
Darren’s uncommon love of spiders gets him into serious trouble when he steals a magical arachnid from performer Larten Crepsley (John C. Reilly); and Steve’s love of vampires finds him in even more dangerous waters when he uncovers Crepsley’s true identity. Meanwhile, a mysterious, oversized man known as Mr. Tiny (Michael Cerveris) is curiously pursuing both boys. In an ironic twist of fate, Darren must sacrifice his normal life to save Steve’s, and thus begins his descent into a hidden populace of freaks, a looming war, and an unavoidable destiny in which he must become the vampire’s assistant.
Once again, Hollywood is exploiting desires to watch mythical, dark fairy tales – this time by starting up a feature film series based on a 12-book saga. Will it progress beyond the first chapter, unlike other films including “The Golden Compass,” “Eragon,” “The Seeker,” “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events,” and countless others? Considering the premise is uniquely comical, its success might just rely on the fact that it’s more “Harry Potter” than “Twilight.” But aside from the humorous take on normally spooky vampires, little else stands out as original. Sadly, since so many other teenage fantasy flicks have beat “Cirque” to the punch, most of the creativity is lost to assumed derivations from similar materials.
The many freaks provide interesting sights, but most are so incredibly abnormal that it detracts from the more believable (or accepted) world of vampires. At least they admit they have no use for cell phones. Since “The Vampire’s Assistant” is the first piece of a complex and lengthy series, more questions than answers are presented. Some provoke curiosity, while others annoy, especially with the knowledge that a sequel is several years away. With the basis of best friends turning against each other in an epic war, destiny controlling the lives of everyone involved, and only a few new rules for the tired vampire genre, “Cirque du Freak’s” box office performance will determine if the young assistant’s adventures will find a furthered future on the big screen.
– The Massie Twins