Friday, October 23, 2009

The Vampire’s Assistant

I’m pretty sure Ed Wood would have loved Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant. Messy, flawed, riddled with odd choices and questionable casting, and stuck with a plot that make less sense as it progresses, The Vampire’s Assistant is in every way a B-movie. And, I’ll admit, I kinda liked it.

Based on a series of novels by Darren Shan, the film’s main plot revolves around a rather bland high school student, Darren (Chris Massoglia), and his more rambunctious best friend Steve (Josh Hutcherson), whose main purpose it seems is to get Darren into as much trouble as possible.

A night out takes the pair to a freak show where events unfold that lead Darren into an agreement with vampire Larten Crepsley (John C. Reilly) in order to save his friend. Leaving behind his life, Darren becomes part vampire, and begins his new life in the Cirque du Freak as Crepsley’s assistant.

There’s quite a bit else that occurs in the movie concerning Darren, Steve, the mysterious Mr. Tiny (Michael Cerveris), the war between vampires (those who feed on but don’t kill humans) and the vampanese (those who, well, leave bloody messes in their wake). Not all of it makes sense, in fact much of it seems little more than convoluted nonsense to keep the story moving to its final big showdown.

When the film attempts to try and make sense of its plot, it fails spectacularly. However, when the film lets Darren’s story unfold as he discovers the new world around him … well, it doesn’t quite succeed, but it puts on a good show.

I also found the script’s rather flippant take on vampire lore amusing. “Can I turn into a bat?” Darren asks, “No, that’s bullshit.” his new mentor replies. Realizing that the material they’re working with isn’t exactly Shakespeare, no one takes things too seriously. The result is an amusing little train wreck that doesn’t leave too much carnage in its wake.

Although the main role of Darren is hopelessly miscast (and the best friend isn’t that much better) there are some nice supporting performances. Reilly is fun to watch as something far removed from your average movie vampire, and Salma Hayek works quite well as his bearded lady girlfriend (even if the part did remind me a little too much of HBO’s Carnivale).

Patrick Fugit is near unrecognizable as Snake Boy, and, although her character isn’t handled as well as I’d like, Jessica Carlson adds a little spark to the second half of the film.

Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant is deeply flawed. The film is a mess and certainly not for everyone. And even if it doesn’t make a helluva lot of sense, it didn’t bore me (an offense I’d be much less willing to forgive). The right audience–and you know who you are–should be able to find a hour or two of enjoyment out of this strange little movie. Just keep your expectations low and think of Ed Wood before the titles start to roll.

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