Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant (2009) Paul Weitz

Production Budget: $40 million

Worldwide Gross: $32 million

As this blog goes on and on themes start to emerge.  Among them are people in bear suits, Angelina Jolie, almost Direct to Video movies starring Sylvester Stallone, and now this; movies trying to start a franchise based on a series of kids books.  We have The Seeker: The Dark is Rising, Spiderwick Chronicles (possibly a future review), and Cirque Du Freak.

This movie is about a teenager named Darren who stumbles on an ancient circus with supernatural freaks.  For some reason the vampire Crepsley (John C. Reilly) turns Darren into a half vampire (powers of a vampire but can go into daylight) to be his assistant.  Meanwhile, an evil mastermind named Tiny turns Darren’s best friend into his rival and is trying to start a war between vampires and the vampaneze (vamps who simply drink blood but don’t kill and vamps who kill their prey).

I can’t give you too much detail because, well, this movie has a problem of explaining too much and not enough at the same time.  You can tell this movie is the first in a series because they try to cram a dump truck full of book plot points while trying to be entertaining to an audience (trying being the operative word).  I always feel like I’m being given the Cliffs Notes of Cirque Du Freak when they rush through making Darren a half vampire, making Steve the villain, explaining what the Cirque is, explaining the war between the vampires, explaining what these brand of vampires powers are, who the main villain is, and introducing a conflict to wrap up this movie in the series.  Because of that, I am never given a chance to really relate to any of the characters or get the flow of this movie (so to speak).  We have to care about these characters otherwise it’s a waste of time.

At the same time, the movie explains diddly squat.  Who is Mr. Tiny?  Why does he want to destroy everything?  Why are Darren and Steve so important to that plan?  What is the story behind Crepsley?  Why is this Cirque so important to everything?  Why do vampereze care what other vampires do?  I know the reason they don’t say anything.  It is because they want to draw people into the rest of the series.  But this is like putting the cart before the horse.  If I don’t give a crap about the first movie, I’m not going to go in and see the rest of the series.

I think the casting of John C. Reilly may be the worst of that year.  He is supposed to be a dark mysterious vampire who is also the general in the coming war between vampires.  He is not Dewey Cox in a Ronald McDonald wig.  There are other cameos by actors like Willem Dafoe and Selma Hayek but they are so small as to not even bother wasting your time telling you what they do.  For the most part the movie is carried by the teen actors and they do a competent job.

I may be a bit of a grinch with this movie.  Reading several IMDb reviews many say this is one of the better adaptations of these teeny fantasy novels.  I will say this movie didn’t piss me off, but rather I was bored by it.  I was simultaneously bored by having exposition shoved down my throat only to be frustrated they don’t explain the reasons behind any of it.  It sounds hypocritical but believe me when I say this could have been salvaged in the right hands.  In the end though this movie goes the way of The Golden Compass in promising a sequel and never ever delivering on it.

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