The Harry Potter franchise comes to a close next year (and, unless a fifth novel is written, the Twilight saga as well) and studios are still scrambling to find a suitable box office replacement. One of the latest contenders is Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant, which is an adaptation of the first three books of the 12-part “The Saga of Darren Shan” book series. Based on the final product, it is clear this is no franchise-maker.
The Vampire's Assistant stars Chris Massoglia as Darren Shaw, a young man from an uptight family who, at the behest of his friend Steve (Josh Hutcherson), visits a traveling freak show. Steve soon realizes that one of the freaks is in fact a real vampire, and for some reason asks that he be turned into one. Crepsley the vampire (John C. Reilly) refuses him, but after an unrelated incident puts Steve on his death bed, Crepsley offers Darren a life of nocturnal bliss. Darren accepts and becomes a half-vampire, only to find himself hunted by a group of evil vampires.
As a youth-oriented movie, The Vampire's Assistant had potential, even if young vampires have become ridiculously clichéd and overused in the last few years. But if Harry Potter has taught us anything, you need to approach such movies in a serious way, and treat the supernatural things that occur as something special. Director and co-writer Paul Weitz fails in both regards.
The biggest problem with the movie is that it's hard to tell whether the movie is supposed to be serious or funny. This confusion results in the entire picture coming off as an unintentionally goofy mess. The special effects, makeup, characters and acting are ridiculously cheesy, and yet the movie is just dark enough to make the cheesiness completely unfunny. The movie looks like it was made for 10-year olds, but its material is dark enough to warrant a PG-13 rating. That's not good.
The movie gets a little better as it goes along, but is continuously hampered by its bad acting. Reilly, one of my favorite actors, is absolutely dreadful – and I'm not just talking about his hairdo. Hutcherson gets some of the worst dialogue of the movie (no, that actually goes to Salma Hayek, who is laughably bad). Unfortunately, Massoglia makes for an incredibly weak protagonist; he lacks presence and just doesn't have the look of a leading man.
It's hard to place the blame on any one element of the film, though much should be attributed to Weitz. Universal needed to hire a director who was going to take the material seriously, but Weitz, who has never directed anything even resembling an adventure movie, was clearly not the man. Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Movie is a movie that can easily be skipped.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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