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Review: ''Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant''

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A textbook example of how trying to please everyone ends up pleasing no one, Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant is a Frankenstein's monster of a movie, all stitches and seams and disparate parts. Based on the first three volumes of Darren Shan's 12-book series, the movie was intended to be a franchise launcher - a cross between Harry Potter and Twilight with a bit of comic-book pow and a smattering of gore thrown in to lure older teens. You can imagine how the Universal Pictures marketing department must have salivated over that pitch. How can it possibly miss, right?

But the finished film has been tinkered with and tweaked so thoroughly that it borders on the incomprehensible. The little that is good about The Vampire's Assistant, directed by the usually reliable Paul Weitz (In Good Company, About a Boy), gets lost in an overly crowded cast of supporting characters better suited to a TV series, some surprisingly cheesy CGI work and an uneven tone that feels like the result of constant studio tampering.

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Most disappointing is the script, written by Weitz and Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential, Mystic River), which sacrifices clarity and narrative momentum in order to set up the next chapter. With so much backstory to fill in and so many players to squeeze in, the film's protagonist, the gentle, good-natured Darren (Chris Massoglia) is never fully defined. He's just a sweet, ordinary kid who, in order to save the life of his best friend Steve (Josh Hutcherson), agrees to become a "half-vampire'' servant for the pacifist bloodsucker Larten Crepsley (John C. Reilly) and join his traveling circus of freaks.

That decision costs Darren his parents and sister, who presume he committed suicide, but brings him a new family - a green-skinned snake boy (Almost Famous' Patrick Fugit), a bearded psychic (Salma Hayek), a deformed giant (Ken Watanabe) and an assortment of other creatures and monsters, most of whom welcome Darren warmly into their fold. There is also Willem Dafoe as a fellow freak/vampire, whose primary talent appears to be spouting reams of exposition wherever he goes.

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The premise is rich with potential, but The Vampire's Assistant sacrifices its characters for the sake of dull exposition, including much business about a war between regular vampires who have learned to drink blood from humans without killing them and the more violent "vampaneze," who relish sucking their prey dry.

 There's so much stuff to keep track of that the film's editing is unusually choppy, and the actors all seem distracted. The normally-resourceful Reilly does surprisingly little with his paternal vampire, while Massoglia excels only at depicting Darren's blandness. The film practically ignores the darker undertones of Darren's decision to give up his normal life - let's not forget about that tween demographic! - which would have given this weightless picture some heft.

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All that distracting vampire-war business might have been better served in a separate film - there's a good reason why it took the books' author three volumes to tell the same tale - but The Vampire's Assistant has been built as a quasi-cliffhanger first, a stand-alone movie second. The crassness ends up sabotaging the entire enterprise. Like The Golden Compass, another failed start of a supposed series directed by Weitz's brother Chris, The Vampire's Assistant leaves you hanging for a sequel that will never arrive. The only way to find out what happens next, of course, will be to read the books. The movie may be a dud, but Darren Shan is a genius.

Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant opens in South Florida on Friday Oct. 23.

Comments

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ryan

I think those two brothers need to stop making a destroying potentially good films. Also the movie is based on the first three books, so how can they ignore the fact that Darren doesn't want to give up his humanity! To add to that Larten Creplsey has a dark personality, so why cast Reiley for a part like. By the way who the heck is Willem Dafoe, that isn't a character in the books, there is not one part of any of the books that mention another vampire at the cirque(bedsides Gavner Purl in the third book, informing a vampaneze is in his home city and of coarse Vancha March whom doesnt even show up untill the 7th book) that is trying to expose Darren!!! This movie is just going to disgrace the books, i'm sorry Darren!

ryan

Oh to add to my dissapointment, Evra seems to be slimy (SNAKES ARE NOT SLIMY,DUH!!), and i don't think Evra is green or a early 90's punk! ALSO HOW DARE YOU SCREW UP DEDDIES CHARACTER!!!Her character is very important, she is in a great deal of the last 5 books as well as the 3rd book!! They went to the extent of calling her Rebecca and making her a monkey girl ARE YOU KIDDING ME THAT IS SO FAR OFF IT ISN'T EVEN FUNNY!!! I honestly could deal with calling her Rebecca, but MAKING HERA MONKEY GIRL.

There is not one fight between vampires in the first trilogy, besides Darren and Larten and that was because Darren was reluctant to drink blood and Larten tried to force it upon him. I have to wander if they even will add Sam Grest into the movie, along with his death by the wolf man! If they didn't add RV (Reggie Veggie) into the picturem then there would be no point to the first movie at all.

Katie

Fucks sake. Your all so fucking picky. Chris, Josh, John, they're all brilliant actors. You cannot slag off the director because in my opinion this film was one of the best I've seen in a while.
Who honestly gives two shits about Twilight? EVERYTHING these days are compared to it and it's driving me INSANE. Twilight was good, let it go. People only like it because they think RPattz will either bed or bite them. Get over yourselves, he doesn't even like the fame.

alexandra lawton

look tbh i think the director have a good imagination,, because at least you get a different story to the book so when you read the book you never know what to expect in the film and you are all very very very picky and tbh i think its a great film and i agree with katie i think the movie is great and that everything is compared to twilight but wouldnt you get bored of film that are the same over and over again,and the evra isnt slimly he is shredding btw

vampire art

Haha! not bad, not bad... I think it has a nice twist to it.

Ritsuka

in my personal opinion the movie is a joke. I love cirque du freak but I hate the movie with a passion. They should have followed the books instead of doing what they pleased, as it seems. So to me the movie destroyed the series.

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