Friday, January 8, 2010

CIRQUE DU FREAK: THE VAMPIRE'S ASSISTANT -- Oh dear... not really an attractive position, is it?


Directed by Paul Weitz
Starring John C. Reilly, Josh Hutcherson, Chris Massoglia, Jessica Carlson, Michael Cerveris, Ray Stevenson, Patrick Fugit, Morgan Saylor, Ken Watanabe, Salma Hayek, Orlando Jones, Frankie Faison

Movies are like food, if you think about it. Some movies have excellent starters (beginning) a good main course (premise/script/acting/direction) and superb desserts (climaxes/ends on the perfect note).

Unfortunately, like all meals, the cards are also distributed unevenly in Hollywood. Some of these so-called "movie-meals" sometimes have excellent starters, an awful main course and completely washout desserts.

With that in mind, let's just say that Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant is a film made with only a possible sequel in mind. So, if this first movie is the starter, and the second the main course, let's just say that The Vampire's Assistant is merely a glass of water. The introduction of the characters are so cursory and shallow, that you would be right in thinking that you were cheated. It's like food was promise but nothing delivered.

Like Hollywood's Godzilla, Transformers 2 and New Moon, The Vampire's Assistant is the antithesis of its own brilliantly captivating trailer which preceeded it.

(Regardless of whether it is the first episode or not, we like each of our cinematic serials to be hearty meals in themselves, like The Matrix or Star Wars -- Episode IV, don't you agree?)

What will sustain you till this badly fleshed out movie ends, however, is the humour. The jokes will have you laughing, that's for sure. Alas, jokes alone do not a movie make.

The Vampire's Assistant stars John C. Reilly. Neither handsome nor charismatic, his wonderful sense of comic timing and delivery of jokes manage to sustain Reilly's  vampire character called Larten Crepsley. He is part of a travelling freakshow and for company, his acquaintances are his lady love Madame Truska (Salma Hayek) a woman who can grow a beard at will and foretell the future; Alexander Ribs (Orlando Jones) who lives up to his name; Rhamus Twobellies (Frankie Faison) whose name is also self-explanatory as are Evra the Snake Boy's (Patrick Fugit) and Mr Tall's (Ken Watanabe) monickers.

These characters are just so fleetingly introduced that you get no inkling of what drives them or any other aspect of their lives.

As the film begins, the freak show's next stop is Darren Shan's (Chris Massoglia) town and this dull straight-As kid who always does as his parents tell him to, gets winds of the performance and sneaks out in the middle of the night -- when all freak shows start, we imagine -- to catch it. Darren is captivated by what he sees (especially an exotic spider -- an arachnid, not a human freak with eight legs or something like that, as you might have imagined!) and after the show, sneaks backstage and steals Crepsley's prized spider. Darren, you see, is drawn to spiders for some bizarre reason and, to be fair and honest, the vampire's pet spider is a beautiful creature indeed.

The actor Massoglia looks somewhat like Karate Kid's Ralph Macchio and, like Macchio, there's not a hint of manliness about him in both looks or mannerism. (Is this feminisation of American men the reason why Hollywood looks to Australia for macho men like Hugh Jackman, Eric Bana and Sam Worthington? Is there something about the great outback Downunder that makes a man a real man? Oh well -- that deserves a whole critique of its own!)

As a lead, Massoglia is mis-cast by a gargantuan margin of error!

Anyway, to cut a long story short, or make a tall man short, as they would probably say jokingly in freakshow circles, the spider escapes, bites Darren's best friend Steve (Josh Hutcherson) and the young man is forced to strike a deal with the vampire to save his best friend, thus becoming the vampire's assistant and partly undead.

Darren's best friend Steve, unfortunately, has always harboured the desire to become a vampire (this is a comic book adaptation, you know!) and is miffed that Darren has become what he'd really, REALLY wanted to be and promptly sells his soul to and joins Crepsley's nemesis, a sinister fatty called Mr Tiny (Michael Cerveris).

There are a few run-ins between Crepsley's side and Mr Tiny's undead minions and a lame showdown between Steve and Darren takes place to tide you over till the badly thought out film ends. The rubbish battles between these two camps look like they are of no consequence to humanity and are, instead, more like two undead sororities going at each other.

Instead of watching this completely forgettable film, I'd rather recommend folks go buy an Alice in Wonderland book to read in anticipation of Tim Burton's re-imagining of the Mad Hatter's world which should hit cinemas in March.


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