Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant is based on a popular series of young adult books that I haven't read. It's a bit bland and doesn't have much in the way of a really freaky, weird or dangerous atmosphere, but it's entertaining enough, sort of a bland temporary fix or appetizer for the upcoming bland feast of the second Twilight movie, New Moon, arriving next month.
The movie begins with two sixteen-year-old best friends in high school, Darren (Chris Massoglia) and Steve (Josh Hutcherson, Bridge to Terabithia, Journey to the Center of the Earth). Darren is pretty popular (he tells us) and gets very good grades, while Steve's a bit more trouble, disliking his boring life and mixing Darren up in a class-skipping, rock-throwing incident early on, earning Darren a lecture, grounding and orders not to see Steve again from his parents.
Does he listen? Of course not. When he and Steve see a cool tricked-out purple hearse/Porsche driving around outside their high school, which drops an advertisement for "the world's oldest continuing freak show," they determine to sneak out and attend.
Did I mention that Darren loves spiders, while Steve's obsessed with vampires? That's important. The freak show includes a vampire, Crepsley (John C. Reilly), doing an act with his huge magical red-and-blue spider, along with some other acts. This part could have been a lot more freaky, but the film never quite embraces its freakishness in a totally satisfying way.
But it impresses Darren enough to get him to sneak back to the vampire's dressing room to steal the spider, and Steve enough, you guessed it, to sneak back to the vampire's dressing room to make a desperate plea for Crepsley to rescue him from his boring life and make him a vampire.
Without getting into any plot spoilers, the spider and the vampire both create further complications for the boys. The Cirque turns out to be sort of a clearinghouse for freaks, of course, as well as for supernatural beings who agree to live by its rules. This doesn't mean they have to get along, there may even be a war brewing with forces inside and outside of the tent. And Darren and Steve seem to be important pawns in a prophecy which both sides are interested in seeing play out.
Norm Macdonald, formerly of SNL's "Weekend Update," famously reviewed the movie version of Interview with the Vampire in three words: "Not gay enough," which is funny, but also revealing. There's just something gay about vampires who want to spend a lot of time with other vampires of the same sex, it can't be avoided, even if somebody's trying to avoid those implications for some young adult vampire movies like this one, or Twilight.
But it comes through anyway. The Vampire's Assistant mostly tries to avoid directly addressing any sexual issues, though there's a bit of a love story between Darren and a girl who works for the Cirque. But there are still some metaphorical analogies concerning the relationships among Darren and Steve, Crepsley and Mr. Tiny, a creepy master of a werewolf, Murlaugh (Ray Stevenson) and a small army of shrunken-head zombies, who's doing his best to foment a war between the more sedate vampires and the deadly "Vampanese."
If you like young adult vampire movies, there's not much to dislike here, and Chris Mossoglia has a certain vampiric presence in addition to a pretty likable screen presence. John C. Reilly adds some heft and humor without being too ridiculous, and the story's set up for perhaps more good things to come in future films. I was interested enough to see what might happen next.
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