It would seem that the Weitz brothers shouldn’t be allowed near fantasy-based movies, which doesn’t bode well for their proposed trilogy adaptation of Michael Moorcock’s Elric saga. Chris Weitz directed The Golden Compass and Twilight: New Moon, which aren’t going to be celebrated in the realms of the fantasy genre any time soon, while Paul Weitz has, like his brother, adapted fantasy books into a film that will not be remembered. They started out as co-directors on the likes of American Pie and About A Boy (a very good film, with an Oscar-nominated screenplay by them), but have gone on to have separate careers – was there competition to make the most mediocre genre film in the popular vampire arena?
Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant is adapted from the first trilogy of the 12-book Saga of Darren Shan, which explains why it tries to pack in too much into its running time, while missing out on the presumably interesting stuff that made the books appealing in the first place. The story is of two boys, Darren and Steve, friends at school who like unusual things (Darren likes spiders and Steve likes horror stuff), and how their lives change when they go to a travelling freak show, the Cirque Du Freak of the title. Through rather silly plot machinations, involving stealing a spider from the Cirque and it biting Steve, Darren is turned into a vampire (well, half-vampire, whatever that is) and becomes assistant to the vampire Crepsley (John C Reilly), who Steve tried to get to change him into a vampire (because he recognised his picture in a book about vampires – really) and has sworn to kill because he didn’t.
The film only shows any charm when Darren is in hiding with the Cirque (to do with a truce between Vampires, who don’t harm their victims, and the vicious Vampaneze, who kill their victims) – the characters and the actors who play them (including Salma Hayek, Ken Watanabe, Patrick Fugit, Kristen Schaal [from Flight of the Conchords] and Orlando Jones) are the most interesting aspect about the movie, and presumably the books. The freaks are the most believable people in the book, and the adults have a ball playing them, particularly Reilly and the extended cameo of Willem Dafoe as a vampire friend of Crepsley. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t really care about this section, and rushes back to the silliness of the plot.
The film is more concerned between the two rather dull lead characters and the development of their friendship into a personal battle that causes the end of the truce between the two vampire clans (the film ends very open-endedly for a desired sequel). However, when the characters are so bland – they have to show that they’ve changed by the cliché of their hairstyles; Steve must be evil because his hair is slicked back – you don’t really care and hope that they both die so that you can go back to the people in the film that are three-dimensional and intriguing enough to carry a film. As it is, the end result is a flat and lifeless movie, even though it tried to cram three novels into 109 minutes.