Tuesday, October 27, 2009

504 - Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant review

The oft repeated moral of “Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant” is that it’s not what you are, but who you are. It’s a fine message, one certain to assuage the identity-related anxieties of all the vampires and goblins and demons and other fictional creatures in the audience.

The titular Cirque is a coalition of ghastly freaks who host a show designed to impress those for whom cleaning a toilet with the tongue isn’t disgusting enough. There’s the Snake Guitarist, the Man With No Skin, the Woman Who Regrows Arms, and the Gorgeous Woman With Incredible Breasts (Salma Hayek plays this one). That last freak can also predict the future and grow a full beard in seconds, but those features seem insignificant compared to the one I identified.

Leading the show is Crepsley (John C. Reilly), a affable vampire who rejects the notion that he has to kill humans to enjoy their delicious blood. I reject the notion that vampires are even remotely interesting without that aforementioned notion, but whatever. His assistant is Darren (Chris Massoglia), a belligerent, whiny douche bag who must become a vampire in order to rescue Steve (Josh Hutcherson), his psychotic best friend. Darren’s not an ideal protagonist, as he has the charm and personality of a well-used laundry hamper.

Darren gets roped into an eternal struggle of good vampire vs. bad vampire, which means that they run around in computer-generated blurs and hit each other, very, very hard. Basically, they’re superheroes and villains with fangs. I always preferred vampires one of two ways: as aristocratic demons or hideous monsters. Here, they’re just carnie trash dueling over ideological differences. Behold what happens when a subject has all of the blood sucked out of it.

John C. Reilly, a wonderful character actor whose recent fame has been the result of appearances in Will Ferrell comedies, lends the film the majority of its charm. But he's not a miracle worker, just a well-cast foot soldier in an expensive Disney TV movie that gets a wide theatrical release. Willem Dafoe drops in for exactly two scenes, which my longtime readers won't be surprised to know I'm guessing is a role designed to remodel his kitchen.

Adapted from a series of novels that I don’t care about, “Cirque du Freak” is plainly another product of Hollywood’s insistence of milking every hot thing of the moment (vampires right now, thanks “Twilight”) until audiences spit blood in protest. Unlike “Twilight,” it’s not primarily a romance, though Darren does develop a thing for a “monkey girl,” which is the film’s term for a woman with a tail. “Hey, how about a nice tailjob?” I desperately wanted Darren to request at the climax. Would a little sex humor be too much for me to ask for after over 100 minutes of this nonsense? Apparently, yes.

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