John C. Reilly is great; ‘Cirque,’ however, is not

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, October 22, 2009 10:06pm
  • Life

It’s a bull market for vampires, thanks to the success of the “Twilight” franchise and other supernatural phenomena. That might explain the rushed air surrounding “Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant,” another movie spin-off of a popular Young Adult book series.

The series is written by Darren Shan, which is also the name of his central character (an older teen in the movie than in the original book).

Darren, played by Chris Massoglia, is lured to a performance of the Cirque du Freak, a sideshow complete with bearded lady (Salma Hayek, no less), reptile boy and assorted offbeat specimens.

Darren attends with his best friend, Steve (Josh Hutcherson), who somehow recognizes the show’s spider-tamer as a bona fide vampire. This is the orange-haired, scar-faced Larten Crepsley, who is about to lead the boys into the world of the bloodsuckers.

Crepsley is played by John C. Reilly, in what must be credited as an original piece of casting. The dough-faced, curly-haired actor is not the first image you get when you think “vampire,” but he crafts the only real performance in the entire picture.

The script, adapted by Brian Helgeland and director Paul Weitz, is a jumble of out-of-the-blue character development and occasional vampire smackdowns. But mostly there’s a great deal of preparation for the future installments in the “Cirque du Freak” series, which almost certainly won’t happen.

For instance, there’s one character (Willem Dafoe, looking especially ruined), a vampire dandy, who pops in at the beginning and end but doesn’t carry any particular weight. I’m sure he’ll be important in episode three.

Some of that labored exposition can be acceptable in Movie No. 1 of a franchise, but the rest of the film ought to be entertaining or suspenseful in some way. “Cirque du Freak” fails on almost all counts.

Its carnival-in-a-small-town set-up might suggest a Ray Bradburylike atmosphere, yet the movie doesn’t seem to take place anywhere specific.

Among the supporting characters, only Patrick Fugit’s snake boy and Jessica Carlson’s monkey girl (she has a tail) make you want to know more about them.

In Darren Shan’s universe, there’s a colossal war raging between regular vampires (who don’t kill their food sources) and the more lethal Vampaneze.

If you walk out of this movie actually caring about the outcome of this supernatural battle, you’re a more dedicated vampire aficionado than I am.

“Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant”

This adaptation of Darren Shan’s young adult book series is all too concerned with setting up future installments. Despite the Ray Bradbury sound of the set-up (carnival comes to small town, teens drafted into vampirism), it fails to conjure up flavorful atmosphere. Only John C. Reilly crafts a real performance.

Rated: PG-13 for violence, language, subject matter

Showing: Alderwood Mall, Cinebarre Mountlake Terrace, Everett, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Stanwood, Meridian, Oak Tree, Woodinville, Cascade Mall, Oak Harbor

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