Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant Review

A boy unknowingly breaks a 200-year-old truce between two warring factions of vampires. Pulled into a fantastic life of misunderstood sideshow freaks and grotesque creatures of the night, one teen will vanish from the safety of a boring existence and fulfill his destiny in a place drawn from nightmares. 14-year-old Darren was like most kids in his suburban neighborhood. He hung out with his best friend, got decent grades and usually stayed out of trouble. But when he and his buddy stumble upon a traveling freak show, things begin to change inside Darren. That's the exact moment when a vampire named Larten Crepsley turns him into something, well, bloodthirsty.

It's very easy these days to dismiss any film based on a successful young adult book series as just a studio's attempt to throw something up against the wall that could effectively begin a franchise and seeing if it sticks. You have every right to be suspicious of that, based upon the number of fantasy books that have tried it and been mostly unsuccessful - The Seeker, The Golden Compass, Narnia, The Spiderwick Chronicles, The Bridge to Terabithia, Eragon, and the list could go on and on and on. I mean, let's be honest. When you see the trailer for Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief and realize that the same guy that kick-started the Harry Potter franchise is directing it, you kind of feel like the studios are really getting desperate to try to launch something new in the genre to continue to milk it. Almost like their trying to get lightning (pun intended) to strike twice or more times in the same place. I'm sure that's what everyone is thinking about this adaptation of Darren Shan's Cirque du Freak series of books.

It probably doesn't help that the movie features vampires that don't have fangs and seem to have an Interview with a Vampire theme of the main bloodsucker not wanting to kill humans and be a good guy. Believe me, I'm getting tired of that just as much as you are. But that's pretty much where the comparisons end here. All the other vampire's featured in the film definitely have a lust for human blood and the main bad guy, Murlough, actually files his teeth into fangs. This is also not just a story about fighting vampires. Yes, the main conflict in the film is between two groups of the bloodthirsty undead, but there are many different types of characters that we run into on our way through the film. You've got Patrick Fugit as a snake-boy, Salma Hayek as a bearded lady with psychic powers, Tom Woodruff, Jr. as the Wolfman, Orlando Jones as a guy with his skin missing and his ribs exposed, and an extremely evil fellow that seems to play everyone against each other to get what he wants named Mr. Tiny. He seems to have some kind of bizarre magical powers that weren't completely explained.

Just with the names above, you can see that there was no expense spared in pulling together a pretty impressive ensemble cast. Then add to that Willem Dafoe as a rather eccentric acting vampire and a very unexpected John C. Reilly as the freak show vampire Larten Crepsley. Reilly really delivers in the role, being witty and slightly scary in the as Crepsley. He almost veers completely off his normal path of the idiot friend or relative that he has paved for himself by being in Stepbrothers, Talladega Nights, and Walk Hard. The reason I say almost is he still retains a sense of humor, but just not THAT kind of humor.

The film does a really good job of staying dark and not compromising what I feel the director was trying to accomplish with the atmosphere and adaptation by watering it down and making it overly "safe" for tweens and a younger audience. The villains, Mr. Tiny and Murlough, have a lot to do with the dark tone of the film. They are both quite frightening and detestable to look at. There's also some more adult-oriented language that you don't usually get in these types of movies.

Sometimes, it sort of feels like the director and writers had to "paraphrase" or shove in some little parts to fit them in to the film. Sort of like something was going to be important to mention in this one if there ever is a sequel. You could really feel it at the end, as it seemed like they were giving you visual footnotes for something that could be coming in the future.

I found Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant to be a pretty enjoyable film. It had a darkly comic and sarcastic vibe that many of the films based on these types of books seem to miss. I haven't read every book of every film that has been made from a young-adult series, but this movie definitely seemed to be rooted a little bit more in the reality and attitude of teenagers and the way they act and live together. Will this be one of those times where the movie will make enough money for the studio to kick off a new franchise? Who knows. Odds are against it, but you can never stop hoping. (Review by Eric Shirey)

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