As the Harry Potter film series nears its end, the 12-book series The Saga of Darren Shan attempts to replace it as the new “it” teen fantasy franchise. Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant is an adaptation of the first three volumes, an unrealistic and far too ambitious attempt obviously written with the intent of sequels.
Darren (Chris Massoglia) is an average, small-town boy. He lives in a world where vampires exist openly and there is a war between those that have learned to co-exist with humans and the much more violent, “old-school” Vampaneze. He and his vampire-obsessed best friend Steve (Josh Hutcherson) hear that a freak show—Cirque du Freak—is showing nearby, and Steve convinces Darren to sneak out to attend. While there, Darren is “blooded” by Mr. Crepsley (John Reilly) and becomes entangled in inter-species political strife.
Though never having read any books in the series, I have an overwhelming feeling that there is an extensive backstory that didn’t make the cut. Already somewhat hazy, the plot involves so many characters that it is difficult to decide which are important—that is, even if you remember them. Lead writers Paul Weitz and Brian Helgeland should have focused on making this film stand on its own rather than assuming Twilight-esque success.
The film relies too heavily on the expected appeal of newcomer Massoglia, who is as bland and unlikeable as his character Darren. Reilly is stronger, offering a refreshing, different approach to playing the recently sexed-up vampire stereotype.
Helped by the film’s slightly comedic tone, he is able to realize Mr. Crepsley’s vampire origins without the often-necessary expensive special effects. But even his efforts, along with an array of famous faces, are not enough to sell the film.
Director Weitz is unable to transition from comedy to big-budget fantasy—his make-believe is not believable.