From Friday’s Weekend Look section of The Oklahoman.
“Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant”
With its muddled tone and murky plotting, The horror-comedy coming-of-age tale “Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant” fails to suck in its audience, whomever that might be.
The supernatural story follows Darren (Chris Massoglia), an ordinary nice-guy teen with good grades, reasonable popularity and parents more anxious about his future than he. His longtime best friend Steve (Josh Hutcherson), on the other hand, is a budding juvenile delinquent.
The pals are bored with life in their nameless suburb until a freak show rolls into town. On a fateful night, they sneak out to see the Cirque du Freak, with its cast of eccentrics, including towering ringleader Mr. Tall (Ken Watanabe), regenerative Corma Limbs (Jane Krakowski) and bearded fortune teller Madame Truska (Salma Hayek). They are particularly mesmerized by sardonic spider trainer Larten Crepsley (John C. Reilly, who seems an odd choice but sinks his teeth into the role), whom Steve correctly pegs as a vampire.
The arachnid-obsessed Darren recklessly steals Crepsley’s poisonous pet, and Steve is accidentally bitten. Darren makes a bargain with Crepsley: In exchange for the antidote, the teen agrees to become the bloodsucker’s half-vampire (he will still be able to go out in daylight) aide.
When he awakes from a coma, Steve is furious with Darren for stealing his dream of becoming a vampire. Through the machinations of warmonger Mr. Tiny (Michael Cerveris), But Darren and Steve end up on opposites sides of an ancient struggle between vampires, who feed from but don’t kill humans, and the bloodthirsty Vampaneze, who ruthlessly drain their prey.
Adapted from British author Darren Shan’s 12-book series, “Cirque du Freak” has its creepy-cool moments, especially with the animated opening credits and in the graveyard sequences. The freaks are fascinating, and their campground colorfully exotic. But most of the story focuses on the less-intriguing conflict between the teens.
Director/co-writer Paul Weitz can’t decide what kind of movie he’s trying to make, though he obviously hopes to do a sequel. “Cirque du Freak” isn’t funny enough to be called a comedy nor scary enough to qualify as horror. Too long and convoluted for kids and too bloodless for teens, the vampire tale feels undead on arrival.
DVD features: Deleted scenes, three making-of featurettes and Cirque campground tour.