Monday, January 11, 2010

Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant

So What Have You Learned?

Hollywood's latching upon its own vampire fad, where every story that has the blood-lusting creatures would just about be green lit for production without batting an eyelid. Then there's this obsessive quest in searching for that juggernaut fantasy film to step into the shoes of The Lord of the Rings, or to fill the void soon to be left by the Harry Potter franchise and after that the Twilight series, like it or not the latter does have some inexplicable box office draw despite being the weakest of them all in terms of story. Many adaptations were experimented with, from The Golden Compass to The Dark is Rising, and almost all have fallen with sequels canned, or spluttering ahead like The Chronicles of Narnia.

Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant, falls into the excellent casting but bad adaptation category, which is sad given its potential to have been great. This is one narrative that sped things up so much that everything became half-baked, from plot to characterization in its failure to draw upon the best parts from the books. Instead it opted for cameos upon cameos from its recognizable stars to stir up some attention, breeze through its complex setup in lieu of long drawn battle sequences which I have to say is cool on one hand, and the other giving it the thumbs down for being shot so badly you can't actually see much other than the collateral damage they bring.

Flashy effects don't make a movie, and if you're an effects junkie then this film has plenty designed for you to wow over, from the introduction of the Cirque which most of it you'd have seen in the trailers already, to the fantastically designed “flash” type moves. One can't tell the powers of this breed of vampires (super-spit, really?) as you get none, as is the background so haphazardly explained, that suffice to know it's all about a prophecy as always, where two best friends will fall out and herald an era of vampire-war. The most powerful vampire you'll see in the film is played by John C. Reilly, who turned out to have some of the better lines in the film, since Ken Watanabe's diction was still something left to be desired.

JC Reilly's wisecracks can tide you through the film at sporadic moments, but it's really difficult to not thumb your nose up at a backstory that didn't bring you up to speed with what's the feud between opposing freak camps. I mean there's plenty of potential built on how the falling out of two good friends would be the catalyst for a prophesied war to spark off, and it took the film great pains to finally get down to doing so, in between trying to show how Darren (Chris Massoglia) learns to get the hang out of being a vampire because he's got good blood, compared to his best friend Steve (Josh Hutcherson) whose lifelong dream is to become an immortal bloodsucker, but too bad that his blood was less tasty and so the seeds of jealousy are sown.

And the acting department is something that's quite the joke in itself. The stars of the show were just hamming it up most of the time, and if you think Robert Pattinson in Twilight was deadpan, you really don't know the meaning of the word until you seen Chris Massoglia in the titular role, which is so bad that you'd tolerate nails on chalkboard a million times than to watch him put through his non-charismatic paces. And if it's the stars that are compelling you to spend time and money on this, with the likes of Ray Stevenson, Ken Watanabe, Salma Hayek, Orlando Jones, Willem Dafoe and Jane Krakowski all making an appearance, well don't just hold your breaths for them to reappear if the scene's out of the cirque. Even Salma Hayek's CG beard can only illicit a tired chuckle after a while.

I would be interested to see how the story further develops from here, but chances are one has to go back to the source material because the movie's bad enough not to warrant a cinematic follow up. Watch this at your own peril as the best bits can be found in the trailer already.

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