Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant
By John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service
In keeping with its unwieldy title, the gently
ghoulish "Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant" (Universal) is an
unfocused adventure tale that gets off to a stylish start, but bogs
down in a meandering story line and overlong fight scenes.
John C. Reilly stars in a scene from the movie "Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant."
Along the way, director and co-writer (with Brian Helgeland)
Paul Weitz's adaptation of three novels in Darren Shan's "Cirque du
Freak" series of children's books offers a bleak outlook on
conventional family life.
Thus, strait-laced, small-town high school student Darren
(newcomer Chris Massoglia)— whose rather macabre coming-of-age story
provides the basic arc of the narrative—is saddled with overbearing
parents (Don McManus and Colleen Camp) who demand that he keep his
grades up in preparation for the rat-race future they have mapped out
Darren's longtime best friend Steve (Josh Hutcherson), by
contrast, is neglected by his widowed, alcoholic mother. As a result,
he's a rebellious teen who constantly derides Darren for his timid
conformity and challenges him to break the rules.
Spider-loving Darren and vampire-obsessed Steve share a taste
for the outlandish, and both are bored with life in their bland burg.
So when an unseen rider in a passing car— a black-and-violet Rolls
Royce, no less—drops a flier at their feet advertising the
one-night-only performance of the titular circus, they're thrilled.
One of the featured acts in this sideshow, along with
beard-sprouting Madame Truska (Salma Hayek) and Japanese giant Mr. Tall
(Ken Watanabe) is skilled spider trainer Larten Crepsley (a commanding
John C. Reilly), whom Steve recognizes as a 200-year-old bloodsucker
he's seen in an occult book.
Through a series of complications not worth unpacking, Crepsley—who turns out to belong to a race of human-friendly, plasma quaffers
who anesthetize their victims and drink only a smidgen of blood at a
time—becomes Darren's mentor after transforming the lad into a
so-called "half vampire." (Unlike the full-blown variety, Darren can
survive in daylight.)
Steve, though, ends up in the thrall of a group of homicidal
vein-drainers known as the Vampaneze, which is unfortunate since
they're locked in a centuries-old conflict with Crepsley and his
softhearted ilk, making the two young pals, perforce, implacable
As the undead and their proteges throw each other around with
Herculean force and inflict the occasional dagger wound, the tolerant
circus folk—including Darren's new sidekick, Evra the Snake Boy
(Patrick Fugit), and his love interest, Rebecca (Jessica Carlson)—provide the young demi-Dracula with an alternate family to match the
alternative dad he's found in Crepsley, making, so the script would
seem to imply, his journey to the dark side worthwhile.
After all, to paraphrase some heavy-handed moralizing Rebecca
dispenses, "It's not what you are, it's who you are" that counts,
The film contains considerable hand-to-hand and knife violence,
some crude and crass language and a pornography reference. The USCCB
Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-III—adults.
The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents
strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children
Mulderig is on the staff of the Office for Film & Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
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