About a hundred million billion years ago, I went to see a Halloween-themed movie called Trick or Treat, which was about a kid who brings a dead rock star back to life by playing one of his records backwards. The film had no “name” actors, minimal special effects and was a huge cheesefest, but compared to a new film I saw in preview last night, elaborately titled Cirque duFreak: The Vampire’s Assistant, it was the greatest piece of cinematic horror known to man. Like much of the currently hyper-popular Vampire fare (Twilight, True Blood) The Vampire’s Assistant is based on existing material – in this case the popular teen-oriented Cirque duFreak series of novels by Darren Shan (which is also the name of the film’s lead character). I’m all for people getting in the vampire game as long as they’ve got something tasty to bring to an already crowded party. But the main problem with The Vampire’s Assistant – the plot of which revolves around the Vampire head of a traveling freak show, and a naive teenage boy who agrees to become that character’s “half-vampire” assistant in exchange for his best friend’s life – is that it can’t seem to figure out if it wants to be a lightweight “Disney Family Channel” comedy for kids, or a violent, bloodthirsty vampire epic for adults.
This inability to really sink its teeth into a firm identity culminates in a film that’s a perplexing cross between Dracula and Dawson’s Creek. John C. Reilly – who rarely makes a misstep – stars as the Vampire Mr. Crepsley, and the cast includes many recognizable names such as Willem Dafoe, Salma Hayek, Orlando Jones, Patrick Fugit and Jane Krakowksi, who all do their best to work with a weak script and minimal to non-existent direction by Paul Weitz (American Pie). The three teen leads, however, are played by unknowns and I must say, with the exception of Josh Hutcherson, who played Darren’s best friend Steve, the talent pool is ridiculously shallow. Actor Chris Massoglia as Darren, in particular, has all of the onscreen charisma of one of my socks.
Although the audience laughed during quite a few scenes, it felt like the kind of forced or “canned” laughter you’d expect to hear plugged into a TV sitcom. The one line that extracted a serious belly laugh from me was where (Not a Spoiler) Hutcherson’s character Steve bends down over the coffin at Darren’s funeral and whispers, “I hate you so much for leaving me here with these idiots.” Too lame and directionless for adults and too scary/gory for kids, I’m not sure who the target audience is for The Vampire’s Assistant. But I sure will be curious to see if it sinks or swims at the box office opening weekend.
Cirque duFreak: The Vampire’s Assistant Opens Nationwide on Friday October 23rd