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Thursday, Oct. 29, 2009 08:35 am

Starting up, Cirque spins its wheels

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John C. Reilly and Salma Hayek in Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant.


A trend has emerged where franchise filmmaking is concerned. Often, the second part of a given series of movies winds up being better than the first. So much time is spent in part one on the exposition necessary to set up the character’s background and situation, that there’s little space left for anything truly interesting to happen. However, when part two and subsequent entries roll around, the director and his cast can hit the ground running, delivering memorable adventures that improve on the first. Spider-Man 2 and The Dark Knight are two examples and here’s hoping that the second part of the Cirque du Freak series follows suit.

The first episode in the series, entitled The Vampire’s Assistant, gives us an intriguing premise and a roster of potentially fascinating characters. Pitched to ’tweens who think Harry Potter is childish and Twilight is for girls, the story revolves around two teenage boys, Darren and Steve (Chris Massoglia and Josh Hutcherson) who stumble upon a traveling freak show populated by snake boys, bearded women and wolfmen, among other things. The leader of this creepy troupe is Crepsley (John C. Reilly), a vampire who cuts a deal with Darren, turning him into a bloodsucker instead of his friend.

This is only one of many elements at play here, as the film ends up being overloaded with plot lines that are sure to be developed in future entries and characters who appear irregularly or erratically. As a war brews between Crepsley’s clan and a more vicious group known as the Vampaneze, we meet the bearded lady Madame Truska (Salma Hayek), the cirque’s owner Mr. Tall (Ken Wantanabe), the tragic snake boy Evra (Patrick Fugit) and suave vampire Gavner Purl (Willem Dafoe). None of these characters are fully developed here and there’s a sense that they and others are introduced only to be further examined in future installments.

In the end, Assistant winds up being a rather frustrating affair. The special effects are well done, the atmosphere is effectively creepy and there’s enough humor to make it seem fresh at times. Unfortunately, the film simply can’t shake the feeling that it’s nothing but a warmup for better things to come. Here’s hoping it does well enough at the box office to warrant the makers the opportunity to see their ideas to fruition.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.
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