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CIRQUE DU FREAK: THE VAMPIRE'S ASSISTANT

SYNOPSIS:
When ordinary spider-loving suburban 16 year old Darren Shan (Chris Massoglia) meets Larten Crepsley (John C. Reilly) at the Cirque du Freak, he gets a chance to leave his dull life to become a vampire - just what his best friend Steve (Josh Hutcherson) has been fantasizing about in his vampire obsessed days. But first he has to die .... And what Darren doesn't know is that he is stepping into the midst of the renewed war between the non-deadly vampires like Larten Crepsley and their age old enemies, the vampanese, who kill their human suppliers.

Review by Louise Keller:
"Being a vampire takes skill," John C. Reilly's vaudeville-styled vampire Larten Crepsley tells spider-obsessed teen Darren (Chris Massoglia) after being sucked into the world of Cirque du Freak. The freaks include a vampire, a bearded lady, a monkey girl, a wolfman, a tall man, midgets, a man with two bellies and a snake boy who live and work together in a twilight existence. Based on Darren Shan's series of books, this adaptation never quite reaches the sunlight. The difficulty is the credible integration of the normal world with that of the freaks. However, there are some terrific moments and lovely ideas and John C. Reilly is lip-smacking good as the weary vampire ("It's a lonely life, but there's lots of it"), who tap dances on stage with a humungous red and blue spider.

Take a risk, Josh Hutcherson's vampire obsessed Steve tells his best friend Darren (Massoglia), as they skip school and sneak out at night to see the Cirque Du Freak show at the dark, run-down theatre in town. Our eyes are as wide as Darren's when Corma Limbs (Jane Krakowski) has her arm bitten off by a wolfman, before it grows back again and the full cast of freaks appear on stage showing off their peculiarities. I especially like Salma Hayek's buxom, bearded lady psychic, Madame Truska, who is in love with Reilly's vampire and watch out for what happens when Darren kisses Monkey Girl (Jessica Carlson). The film's toughest challenge is to make us care about and believe Darren's decision and the actions that follow.

Flitting is the vampire version of flying and the special effects will impress the young male target audience. Director Paul Weitz gets a bit heavy handed at times as chaos reigns on screen, although there are nice touches, like Larsen's pointy nails that conveniently puncture a vein for the blood-thirsty, and the deep purple Jaguar with the number plate that reads DES TINY, carrying Michael Cerveris's oversize leader of the vampanese sect Mr Tiny, who is agitating for war with the vampires. A sequel is likely.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
This teenage adventure has several things going for it that serves to engage its audience: it's a vampire comedy adventure in which the freaks are fabulous, the sprinkling of humour in the dialogue is entertaining, the production design is exotic and the effects are cool. I'm not so sure about the two youngsters, though; our hero Darren is played by Chris Massoglia with mouth permanently ajar, which gives him a gormless look. True, his character is rather gormless. As for Josh Hutcherson's Steve, Darren's best friend, he's so irritating I'd be happy to fake death so he would go away if he were my buddy.

The adults are much more entertaining; John C. Reilly plays his vampire goodie with a deadpan earnestness, and it's up to the gorgeous Salma Hayek to put some sizzle into the show as the bearded lady of Cirque du Freak, Madame Truska. Patrick Fugit is also sparkling as Evra the Snake Boy, Jessica Carlson is lovely and three dimensional as monkey girl, Rebecca, while Willem Dafoe handles his cameo as Gavner Paul with music hall grade relish.

Of all the characters, though, it's probably Mr Tiny, played by a puffed up Michael Cerveris who will haunt your memories, a repulsive yet foreboding figure who manages to be ridiculous and terrifying at the same time.

The mood swings between novelty comedy and artful adventure, but the screenplay (jointly by director Paul Weitz and the redoubtable Brian Helgeland) is imprisoned by the genre, trapped in a tight fitting template that limits how much texture and depth can be worked in. The result is a script that promises more depth and substance than it delivers, leaving all the fireworks of the visuals to drive the film's appeal.



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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 0
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 2

CIRQUE DU FREAK: THE VAMPIRE'S ASSISTANT (M)
(US, 2009)

CAST: John C. Reilly, Salma Hayek, Chris Massoglia, Josh Hutcherson, Ken Watanabe, Michael Cerveris, Ray Stevenson, Jessica Carlson, Patrick Fugit

PRODUCER: Ewan Leslie, Lauren Shuler Donner

DIRECTOR: Paul Weitz

SCRIPT: Paul Weitz, Brian Helgeland (books by Darren Shan)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: J. Michael Muro

EDITOR: Leslie Jones

MUSIC: Stephen Trask

PRODUCTION DESIGN: William Arnold

RUNNING TIME: 109 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Universal

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 11, 2010







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