The most blood-curling aspect of Paul Weitz's Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant is that this anemic adaptation of a popular children's book series is built up as the first in series of post-pubescent vampire films. Imagine Harry Potter on Valium and feel the joy. So let's do everyone a favor and hammer a stake through this abomination's heart before it's too late.
One of the major coagulating problems here is that Chris Massoglia, the Prince of Bland, stars as Darren Shan, a goody-goody teener with a penchant for spiders and high grades. When he and his bad-boy pal Steve (the much more palatable Josh Hutcherson) sneak out one school night to attend a traveling freak show, the duo's life will never be the same, and you will have wasted 108 vital minutes discovering why.
The catalyst for this Godforsaken adventure is Larten Crepsley (John C. Reilly), an aging vampire at the Cirque du Freak, who's dating an on-and-off again bearded lady, Madame Truska (Salma Hayek). One of her gifts is foretelling the future, and after taking one gander at Darren in the audience, she predicts the worst. She could have come to that conclusion just by reading the screenplay.
Anyway, Crepsley does his act with a flute and a sprightly but poisonous spider that Darren steals. The upset arachnid bites Steve, and to save Steve's life, Darren agrees to become a half-vampire and Crepsley's servant for life.
Now, being a vampire has its positive and negative aspects: "It's a lone life, but there's lots of it." And although you gain certain super powers such as a Super Spit that heals wounds, you also have to leave your family behind, or you might want to suck out your underage sister's blood, as Darren learns.
But there's more to this tale than incestuous longings for minors, and I'm not alluding to the tail of The Monkeygirl that goes erect whenever she's kissed. It appears that it has been written by Destiny that Darren will lead the good Vampires, who do not kill humans (they just sedate them and sip some blood from their shoulders) into an epic battle against the Vampanese, led by Steve, who do slaughter humans by greedily slurping down their life force.
Did I leave out that troublesome Steve has been seduced into Evil by a Mr. Tiny (Michael Cerveris)? Oh, well.
Thankfully, this momentous battle, which has allusions to the Armageddon, which might just make Darren the metaphorical Christ figure and Steve the anti-Christ (they are both born again in a manner) has not been shoehorned into this episode. Weitz, who had more success helming American Pie and About a Boy, apparently loses his comic timing when he has to worry about special effects on top of everything else like the flaking dermis of Evra the Snake Boy (Patrick Fugit). And to be blunt, the special effects here are not that special, just busy.
In the end, what we have here is a commercial product geared possibly for boys of pre-bar-mitzvah age. It lacks art. It lacks wit. It lacks erythrocytes and leukocytes. It's just a bloody, bloodless mess. - Brandon Judell
Mr. Judell is currently starring in Rosa von Praunheim's New York Memories, which is still in production. In the fall, he'll be teaching "The Arts in New York City" at City College. He has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire, Detour, The Advocate, and dozens of other publications.