By Sandra Kraisirideja
Directors and brothers Paul and Chris Weitz are on a vampire kick these days as both have feature films opening within weeks of each other that further explore vampire mythology.
First up is Paul and “Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant,” opening Oct. 23. Brother Chris follows with “The Twilight Saga: New Moon” on Nov. 20.
“Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant” is based on the 12-book series “The Saga of Darren Shan” by UK-based writer Darren Shan. The series contains four trilogies, beginning with “Vampire Blood” which includes “Cirque du Freak,” “The Vampire’s Assistant” and “Tunnels of Blood.”
The script for “Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant,” co-written by Weitz and Brian Helgeland (“L.A. Confidential”), combines details from the first two books in the “Vampire Blood” trilogy and the film’s last scene seems to indicate that the story will be continued (although a quick check of imdb.com shows Paul’s next project is “Little Fockers”).
“The Saga of Darren Shan” is the story Darren Shan, a teenager who becomes a half vampire and assistant to the vampire Larten Crepsley in exchange for Crepsley saving Darren’s best friend’s life. In “Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant,” Darren is played by relative newcomer Chris Massoglia with John C. Reilly as Crepsley and Josh Hutcherson as Darren’s best friend Steve.
Massoglia and Reilly create a believable relationship onscreen and their characters are likeable, but its not enough to overcome the movie’s other shortcomings–poorly directed action sequences, distracting editing and a bland, misguided script.
“Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant” lacks focus and the acting is marginal except for Massoglia and Reilly, who somehow manage to keep their characters and the relationship between them interesting.
There are two sources of conflict in “Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant.” The first is a feud between vampires, those who do not kill their victims but only drink when necessary, and Vampaneze, those who do kill their victims. The second conflict is Darren’s desire to remain human despite his growing need for blood. Either of these conflicts are strong enough to be made into a compelling movie, but the script doesn’t tackle either subject effectively. It struggles between being a light-hearted comedy for teenagers and an action movie with vampires. Even the supporting cast featuring Ken Watanabe, Willem Dafoe, Selma Hayek, Jane Krakowski, Patrick Fugit, and Orlando Jones seem out of place.
“Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant” ends at a weird place which feels more like the middle of the story. This seems to suggest a sequel is in the making, but given this first effort once is enough for me.