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  Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant Roll Up, Roll Up
Year: 2009
Director: Paul Weitz
Stars: John C. Reilly, Josh Hutcherson, Chris Massoglia, Jessica Carlson, Michael Cerveris, Ray Stevenson, Patrick Fugit, Don McManus, Colleen Camp, Ken Watanabe, Salma Hayek, Orlando Jones, Frankie Faison, Willem Dafoe, Kirsten Schaal, Jane Krakowski
Genre: Horror, Fantasy, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 1 vote)
Review: Darren Shan (Chris Massoglia) was just an ordinary American teenager, so how did he end up playing handheld computer games inside his coffin at his own funeral? To understand that you had to go back to where this all began, and he was a star student at school, getting A grades just as his parents always wanted him to so he could live out their dreams of seeing him go to college, get a successful job, and settle down to start a family, but he's not so sure. Still, he can't see any way out of it, but perhaps fate intervenes when his delinquent best friend Steve (Josh Hutcherson) makes a suggestion...

Yes, why not go along to a freak show tonight and see what there is to entertain you, and who knows, it might change your life? Alternatively, it might anger a whole group of book readers appalled at what had been done with their beloved young adult horror-fantasy series, as this was an adaptation of Darren Shan's novels, or ostensibly the first three at any rate, not that the followers could see many comparisons between those and the film incarnation, especially as the action had been transplanted to the United States rather than keeping the European flavour of the source. This, among many creative decisions, was rather baffling.

Why baffling? Because The Vampire's Assistant was patently a try at courting the Harry Potter market, so rendering it more American when the real Shan was Irish was something of a misstep, or so you would have thought. And you'd be right, as this made nowhere near the amount of cash for Universal that J.K. Rowling's inventions were making for Warners, thus judged a flop and given that most damning creative judgement: there shall be no sequel. Just like that, a franchise was nipped in the bud, which was a pity for anyone who actually enjoyed the film as the whole plot looked to be all set up and very little pay off, as if it were building up to something that would never now arrive.

Part of the problem might have been the casting, not simply because it mainly consisted of North Americans, but because, well, there was no nice way of putting it but John C. Reilly was nobody's idea of a vampire. When you think of the bloodsuckers those names that sprang to mind would be Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, even Robert Pattinson, but while Reilly could have concievably played a werewolf without much grumbling, a regal member of the parasitic undead he was not. Perhaps he could have played Bigfoot again? Anyway, here we were intended to see him as a noble supernatural denizen of the space between this world and the next, and frankly he looked like a truck driver in fancy dress.

How Darren and the vampire get together is that the boy visits his freak show and steals a red and blue tarantula from him for reasons best known to himself while he's there. This sets up both he and Steve as targets for two warring factions, where Darren ends up taken under the wing of Reilly's Crepsley and his best buddy is adopted by the rotund Mr Tiny (Michael Cerveris) who has evil plans for him which are never made entirely clear either. The whole idea of Darren leaving his family behind is made far easier for him to take when they are depicted as oblivious to his needs, and besides the circus is more interesting - in theory - when he is turned to a half-vampire by his new mentor. With a collection of guest stars, or at least recognisable faces, wheeled on for one or two scene bits of business, director Paul Weitz was obviously reckoning on a series to follow that would offer them more to do, but it was not to be, leaving this one of those growing number of incomplete-feeling movies for whom success did not come a-knocking. Music by Stephen Trask.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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