It's Twilight with training wheels!
Chris Massoglia stars as Darren - a good kid who does well in school and generally stays out of trouble, even though his best friend, Steve (Josh Hutcherson), is much more mischievous and finds trouble wherever he looks. When the two receive a strange flyer inviting them to the Cirque du Freak, they can't resist temptation and the promise of oddities that will blow their minds, but they don't realize how their lives are about to change.
After visiting the Cirque, Steve finds himself on the verge of death, but a mysterious vampire, Larten Crepsley (John C. Reilly), offers to save him if Darren will agree to become a half-vampire. The two boys are about to become wrapped up in an age old battle between competing vampire sects, and controlled by a menacing figure known as Mr. Tiny (Michael Cerveris).
Can Darren survive in the new world?
Will Steve be jealous, since he always wanted to become a vampire?
Why is Darren so important in this vampire war?
Writer/director Paul Weitz sets a tone more welcoming and safer for tweens who might find Twilight a bit too intense, but this light hearted take extracts the fangs from the more dangerous part of the story (Cut me a break, I am allowed a bad pun here and there).
At times, Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant is surprisingly and engagingly entertaining with funny situations, snappy one-liners and characters too silly to cause nightmares (although, Salma Hayek as the bearded lady did cause all sorts of conflicting and strange feelings for this movie reviewing dude). Weitz and co-writer Brian Helgeland (based on the book series) want kids to be intrigued by this other world, not scared out of their pants.
Our vampires might be blood-thirsty, but they all have goofy hair, which makes you laugh rather than cower. All of the freaks in the circus have traits that are not scary, but odd, like the woman whose body can regenerate after injuries, the man with two stomachs and the snake boy who wants to be a rock star instead of reptile charmer. However, Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant still wants to be scary at times, which is where the movie loses its bite (I couldn't resist one more pun, just complain if I use the same ones when I review Twilight: New Moon in a few weeks)
After all of this silliness, Weitz and company attempt to trot out a darker, more harrowing story, which is at conflict with the fun we have been having. Suddenly, everything that was supposed to be fun is dangerous. While that might be an intentional metaphor about growing up and becoming an adult, it hurts the movie. The dangerous portions don't have much of an impact, since they are too familiar and cliché.
You'll love Reilly as he makes Crepsley into a funny, acerbic mentor equally goofy and angry, sometimes happy to guiding Darren through life, but also kind of annoyed at the kid, which should bode well for the next installment of Cirque Du Freak (yes, they want to make a whole bunch of them).
3 Waffles (Out of 4)
Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense supernatural violence and action, disturbing images, thematic elements and some language.