vampires_assistantIf I told you who Paul Weitz and Brian Helgeland are and what they have made in the past, you would shit your pants when you compare it to this dreck. Paul Weitz directed American Pie and, more impressively, About a Boy. Brian Helgeland has written some of the best films to come out in recent years, namely Mystic River and L.A. Confidential. So you may ask what the fuck happened here? I can’t tell you why this film sucks, but I can tell you how much it sucked.

This film is apparently based on a series of popular young adult books, which I have heard are pretty good. I’m sure they are and I even got a hint of that while watching the film. The story is about a teenage boy who, with his best friend, attend one night a carnival type show featuring a bunch of freaks. One of those freaks is a vampire and the boy’s best friend asks him to make him a vampire, which the vampire refuses. One incident leads to another and before long, the boy becomes the vampire’s assistant and joins the “good guys” while the best friend becomes bad and joins the….say it with me now….the “bad guys.” The story has the kind of plot that one would typically find in a novel, which partly explains why this film nor most film adaptations of young adult fantasy books have worked in recent years.

The two teenage boys are played by Josh Hutcherson and Chris Massoglia. Both actors are unknown and for good reason: they give you absolutely nothing to like here. They have the depth of a mannequin and every scene they were in (which is much of the movie) felt like I was watching the vampire edition of High School Musical. In SHARP contrast to the teenage actors, we also have John C. Reilly, who plays the titular vampire. Reilly is awesome and why wouldn’t he be? He was even great in Days of Thunder and he didn’t do much there. Reilly is the glue that keeps this film from totally falling apart. I’m sure after he saw a print of this film he asked himself “What the fuck did I get myself into?” He has been in much better films and I’d like to think he did this strictly for the money.

I wish I had read the book before I watched the movie. I may have enjoyed it more and the plot may not have seemed as retarded. The best friend dreams about being a vampire and when his friend dies and joins the good guys, he becomes jealous and joins the bad guys. This is dumb. There is absolutely no complexity to his character and his transformation from best friend to bad guy is so sudden and unnatural that it (along with other things) ruins the film.

The writer obviously tried to distinguish the vampires in the book from your normal run-of-the-mill vampires by giving them different attributes. I can appreciate that, but the distinctions don’t work entirely. For example, to be a vampire your fingers cut and you join hands with a vampire, who turns you into a vampire by some sort of Mr. Spock mind meld bullshit. This may have worked in the book, but on film it looked lame.

One of the few things I liked about the movie was the interaction between the vampire’s assistant and the vampire. These scenes gave the film most of its humor, which, once again, we can thank Reilly for. However, the film completely disintegrates when the boy enters the freak camp. We meet each of the freaks for a short while and thats it. I wish more time had been spent with the freaks to establish their characters better and for us to care more about them. The same can be said for the bad guys. We barely get any time with the bad guys and, consequently, you don’t care about them. I have a feeling all of these characters are much more fully fleshed out in the books and due to time constraints, the filmmakers couldn’t spend any significant time with any of them. This is the same problem that has plagued the Harry Potter films, but the Potter films at least have strong plotlines to carry them forward on film (and better directors).

Cirque du Freak is clearly established as a setup for the rest of the series. Unfortunately, this first film does such a poor job of setting up the story and characters, that you don’t give much of a shit to see further films in the series. I attribute a lot of this to the poor direction by Paul Weitz. The story screams for style and atmosphere and Weitz totally fails to provide either. A few years ago he directed The Golden Compass, an attempt to recreate the success of the Lord of the Rings films. The film was a bomb and any sequels to the film were scrapped by the studio. At the time, I wondered if Weitz was the right man to helm big budget fantasy pictures. After seeing this, I am convinced this genre is simply not his thing. This film should have looked beautiful, almost Tim Burton-esque. Instead, we got a film that looked flat and boring and coupled with the weak script, Cirque du Freak is a complete failure in every way (except for John C. Reilly).