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Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant (12A)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner21/10/2009

Two out of Five stars
Running time: 103 mins

Watchable teen fantasy with colourful characters and decent effects, but it's let down by some poor casting decisions, a cluttered script and a plot that's more concerned with setting up the sequels.

What's it all about?
Based on the series of books by Darren Shan, Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant is directed by Paul Weitz and stars Chris Massoglia as Darren Shan, a 16-year-old schoolkid who meets mysterious ginger vampire Larten Crepsley (John C. Reilly) when he visits the Cirque du Freak with his best friend Steve (Josh Hutcherson). When Steve is bitten by Crepsley's poisonous spider, Darren makes a pact with Crepsley and agrees to become his half-vampire assistant if Crepsley saves Steve's life.

Crepsley duly fakes Darren's death and takes him to live with the freaks, including bearded Madame Truska (Salma Hayek), barker Mr Tall (Ken Watanabe), Snake Boy Evra (Patrick Fugit) and Monkey Girl Rebecca (Jessica Carlson). Meanwhile, Steve is turned to the dark side by the sinister Mr Tiny (Michael Cerveris) and the two friends find themselves on the opposite sides of a centuries-long conflict between warring undead tribes.

The Good
The cartoon-ish special effects are used well, although it's disconcerting to see that Twilight's vampire piggybacks seem to be catching on. In addition, Weitz has assembled a decent cast and given them colourful characters to play, but the overly-stuffed script (which merges three books into one film) means that we never get to know any of them – this is particularly apparent in the romantic subplot, which just seems to happen for the sake of it.

The Bad
The Vampire's Assistant is clearly meant to be the franchise-starter for the Cirque du Freak series. Unfortunately, it tries to do too much at once and is ultimately more concerned with moving the pieces into place for the sequels than delivering a satisfying story the first time round.

Massoglia makes a fairly bland lead, but the biggest problem is that Reilly is badly miscast as Crepsley - he's surely nobody's idea of a charismatic or seductive figure and he's certainly not scary. Also, in attempting to underplay it, he ends up giving flat readings of what are presumably meant to be deadpan funny lines.

Worth seeing?
Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant is watchable enough but the over-worked script means that it's not as engaging, as scary or as darkly funny as it should have been.

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Content updated: 18/08/2018 10:56

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