(director/writer: Paul Weitz; screenwriters: Brian Helgeland/based on the series of books by Darren Shan; cinematographer: J. Michael Muro; editor: Leslie Jones ; music: Stephen Trask; cast: Chris Massoglia (Darren), Josh Hutcherson (Steve), John C. Reilly (Larten Crepsley), Salma Hayek (Madame Truska the Bearded Lady), Ken Watanabe (Mr. Tall), Frankie Faison (Rhamus Twobellies), Michael Cerveris (Mr. Tiny), Ray Stevenson (Murlaugh), Patrick Breen (Mr. Kersey), Patrick Fugit (Evra the Snake Boy), Don McManus (Mr. Shan), Colleen Camp (Mrs. Shan), Orlando Jones (Alexander Ribs), Willem Dafoe (Gavner Purl), Jessica Carlson (Rebecca), Jane Krakowski (Corma Limbs), Jonathan Nosan (Hans Hands), Kristen Schaal (Gerthe Teeth), Tom Woodruff Jr. (Wolfman), Drew Varick (Loaf Head); Runtime: 109; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Ewan Leslie/Paul Weitz/Lauren Shuler Donner; Universal; 2009)

“Just another dumb vampire flick.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Writer-director Paul Weitz (“American Pie”/”Little Fockers”) helms a bloodless vampire film in need of a transfusion. The vampire film caters to young boys. It’s based on the British writer Darren Shan’s series of popular young adult books. Co-writer Brian Helgeland is a long way from his winning LA Confidential screenplay.

High school friends, the ne’er-do-well vampire lover Josh Hutcherson and the innocent spider- lover Chris Massoglia, stumble upon a travelling circus of freaks in town and attend the evening show. They catch the acts with such freaks as Salma Hayek’s bearded woman, Patrick Fugit as the rocker snake boy, Jane Krakowski who can grow back her arms and other colorful freaks. When the show is ordered to stop by a complaint from the prudish high school teacher (Patrick Breen), Josh sneaks backstage and is rebuffed by the ageless illusionist redheaded vampire, the circus’s star,  John C. Reilly, because he has evil blood. Meanwhile Chris hides in the closet and when confronted by Reilly is taken on as his assistant after becoming undead. Chris’s parents believe he’s dead when he fails to return that night, as the kid has the sudden urge to escape from his dull suburban setting. He’s mentored by the paternal spider-tamer and peaceful vampire Reilly, who teaches him how to feed off people who are sedated without killing them. Meanwhile Josh, enraged that Chris stole his dream to be a vampire, is mentored by Ray Stevenson from the evil vampire group. What the kids don’t realize is that these two factions of vampires have been rivals for a few hundred years and the blood suckers known as the vampanese hate Reilly’s wussy group who have a social conscience. The arch villain is the giant fat man called Mr. Tiny (Michael Cervereris, the stage actor), who promotes a war between the rivals for his own amusement. The finale features a fistfight between Josh and Chris, each displaying supernatural power. Thrown into the mix is a romance between Chris and the Monkey Girl with a long tail (Jessica Carlson).

There are too many characters to keep track of them all. The great character actor Willem Dafoe disappears in an inconsequential role as a prissy vampire.  The story is too messy to be totally followed and the jokes are cornball–like the one where Reilly says after saving his fellow freaks from a vampire attack: “You’d think a vampire would know better than to stick his neck out.” 

It turns out to be neither scary nor funny, just another dumb vampire flick.

Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant

REVIEWED ON 4/25/2017       GRADE: C+