By Matt Brunson
CIRQUE DU FREAK: THE VAMPIRES ASSISTANT
DIRECTED BY Chris Weitz
STARS John C. Reilly, Chris Massoglia
Based on a series of books for kids, Cirque du Freak: The Vampires Assistant would seem to be aimed at either those young viewers with an affinity for the Twilight franchise or perhaps at those young viewers seeking an alternative to the adventures of Bella and Edward. Either way, this PG-13 confection would seem to be geared primarily at the teen crowd, with adult attendance a passing afterthought. But older moviegoers who can recall the spate of like-minded horror flicks from the 1980s will find much to appreciate as well.
Those 80s efforts like Fright Night, Vamp and The Lost Boys placed teen protagonists in horrific situations and armed them with plenty of humor to go along with those wooden stakes. Like its predecessors, this film similarly mixes comedy with fantasy, and Id be surprised if writer-director Chris Weitz and co-scripter Brian Helgeland hadnt studied those pictures before embarking on this project (on the other hand, similarities to 1932s classic Freaks and 1972s forgotten Vampire Circus were probably coincidental).
Here, the school-age hero is 14-year-old Darren (Chris Massoglia, who even looks like 80s mainstay Ralph Macchio in certain shots), who, at the urging of his rebellious best friend Steve (Josh Hutcherson), sneaks out to catch a one-night-only presentation by a traveling freak show. The lineup includes a snake boy (Almost Famous Patrick Fugit) and a psychic who can sprout a beard at will (Salma Hayek), but its spider-wrangler Larten Crepsley (John C. Reilly) who catches the boys attention. Crepsley turns out to be a good vampire he dazes rather than kills humans, taking just enough blood for sustenance and while Steve gets rejected for having bad blood, Darren soon becomes the vampires protégée and finds himself having to steer clear of the soul-sucking Mr. Tiny (Michael Cerveris) and an army of bad vampires.
Reilly hardly conjures up images of suave bloodsuckers like Christopher Lee or Frank Langella, but his casting proves to be a real boon to the film, providing it with a central vampire whose wit is as sharp as his teeth. Beyond him, theres plenty to enjoy here too much, since the picture ultimately collapses under the weight of its busy storyline and fails to adequately utilize its strong supporting cast (Hayek and Willem Dafoe as a dapper vampire especially could have used more screen time). Cirque du Freak: The Vampires Assistant ends with all signs pointing to a sequel, but given its bloodless box office, its safe to surmise that a stake has been driven through that particular course of action.