John C. Reilly, Ken Watanabe, Salma Hayek, Patrick Fugit, Josh Hutcherson, Chris Massoglia
Paul Weitz, Brian Helgeland
Darren Shan (book series)
A weird stepchild to the guaranteed to be more popular "New Moon," "Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant" is a lightweight vampire alternative for those who shun the gore of "Zombieland" and the melodramatic romance of the "Twilight" films.
Starring Chris Massoglio as Darren, "The Vampire's Assistant" follows this young man as he's drawn into a battle between rival vampire gangs. Before you start thinking, however, that this is bound to be yet another vampiric gorefest, let's keep in mind who receives top billing in the film...
John C. Reilly.
While Reilly certainly has quite the reputation as a dramatic actor, lately Reilly has taken to revealing his comic side and "The Vampire's Assistant" offers him a rather unique chance to be a little silly, a little absurd, a touch of goth and a whole lotta fun.
As the vampire Larten Crespley, Reilly actually brings out both his sincere and sarcastic sides as a sort of paternal vampire who takes the young Darren under his wife...for a price. Crespley agrees to save Darren's best friends' life in exchange for Darren becoming half-vampire, a decision that allows Darren to serve as Crespley's assistant. This decision also ends up being well-timed for all involved as a fragile truce between Crespley's band of vampires and the much more dastardly Vampaneze dissolves.
Based upon a series of popular children's books by Darren Shan, "Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant" is the kind of film that will appeal to mature 'tweens and younger teens who embrace the Harry Potter books or, for that matter, any type of film centered on the adventures and misadventures of adolescents.
Of course, the film wouldn't be worth anything if not for the off-kilter "Cirque du Freak" itself, a sort of old-school side show circus of freaks such as a kind bearded lady (Salma Hayek), Snake Boy (Patrick Fugit), Alexander Ribs (Orlando Jones) and the master of it all, Mr. Tall (Ken Watanabe).
Where Weitz mostly succeeds is in turning "The Vampire's Assistant" into a dark yet humorous, sarcastic yet silly cinematic circus all its own that never takes itself too seriously. While his brother is off directing "New Moon," Paul Weitz has assembled the teenaged boy's alternative. While performances by Massoglio and Josh Hutcherson, as his best friend, are a touch too bland, "Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant" will likely prove more pleasing to its target audience, though it's difficult to say if the target audience will ever find it given Universal's uneven marketing of the flick.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic