Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant

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Posted October 22, 2009 in Film

“Mr. Perfect,” is what Darren Shan’s (Chris Massoglia) best friend and bad influence Steve (Josh Hutcherson) calls him. Darren’s parents (Colleen Camp and Don McManus) have drilled it into the high school student that his life plans are already settled: College. Job. Family. Undead half-vampire isn’t on this list, which is why Paul Weitz’s fun flick opens with Darren’s funeral where below ground, he plays on his Game Boy and waits for the bloodsucker Larten Crepsley (John C. Reilly) to dig him up and carry him off to join Mr. Tall’s (Ken Watanabe) traveling circus of freaks. Studios are searching for their teen boy Twilight, and this fantasy based on the series by author Darren Shan (yes, he really did name his lead after himself) is solid enough to argue for a sequel. Part of its spell is the supporting cast Weitz has wrangled, which includes Salma Hayek as the bearded Madame Truska, Jane Krakowski as the self-regenerating Corma Limbs, Willem Dafoe as vampire Gavner Perl, Orlando Jones as the concave Alexander Ribs and Patrick Fugit as the snake-skinned hipster who calls his band Serpentine. But what’s best about the flick is that everything is so, well, normal. Reilly, in particular, delights in responding to the fantastical with the practical. His ancient vampire has heard it all, but he isn’t jaded, just impatient. As is de rigour among today’s movie bloodsuckers, he and Darren don’t kill humans. They knock them out and sip only the blood they need. It’s the Vampaneze—a vampire culture who believes in the ancient art of murder—who go all the way, and the mysterious Mr. Tiny (Michael Cerveris), whose powers become more and more chilling, wants to stir up the suspicion between the two clans and break a century of truce. Weitz shoots half the film through a hazy, disorienting lens that stands in for everything from spider-vision to just-for-the-hell-of-it-vision, and while it’s distracting, we’re still game for the pop pleasures of this first installment in what could (but probably won’t be) a four-film franchise.

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