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Cirque du Freak - The Vampire's Assistant


Stars: Chris Massoglia, John C Reilly, Josh Hutcherson, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Fugit, Jessica Carlson, Michael Cerveris, Ray Stevenson, Ken Watanabe, Salma Hayek, Orlando Jones, Colleen Camp

Director: Paul Weitz

The first in a serio-comic fantasy horror series that looks as if it could run to more films than Harry Potter. This one sets the scene: minor villains are bested, with more cataclysmic action obviously to follow. It's doubtful, though, whether this can attract the audience of the Potter films. The hero (Massoglia) looks not to have even the limited, if distinctive, personality of Daniel Radcliffe, and it's left to the 'freaks' to provide the film's lifeblood.

After a great credit sequence, the plot kicks in. Goody-goody Darren (Massoglia) and his ne'er-do-well pal Steve (Hutcherson) sneak off - Darren's grounded - to see the Cirque du Freak. A meagre audience is enjoying sword-swallowing, the bearded lady (Hayek), a wolfman and the antics of Krepsley (Reilly) and his multi-coloured spider Octa, when local do-gooders break up the show.

Spider-lover Darren makes off with Octa - after overhearing Steve says he'd like to be a vampire - incurring the wrath of Krepsley, who's a real vampire, though he stops at killing his victims. Well, Steve gets bitten by Octa and, to save his friend, Darren promises Krepsley, who has the antidote, that he'll become a half-vampire and live at the Cirque.

Battle-lines are clearly being drawn, with Darren, Krepsley and K's partner Gavner (Dafoe) - who refers to non-killing vampires as Last of the Mo-Freak'uns - on one side, and Steve and some very bad guys on the other.

After the novelty of all this has worm off, drabness tends to set in here, though Reilly's neck-nibbler, who's in love with the bearded lady, has some nice lines along the way. 'Wanna be a vampire?' he asks Darren. 'It's a lonely life. But there's lots of it' and, after a heart-to-heart at the Cirque, 'I think I'll hit the pine early.'

'After 200 years of living,' he confesses to Hayek. 'Why would I become lonely?' 'I don't know,' she replies. 'Mid-life crisis?' More dialogue like this next time, please, lots of battle scenes and fewer lulls, and this series could still have an afterlife.

David Quinlan

USA 2009. UK Distributor: Universal. Technicolor.
109 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 18 Oct 2009