Saturday, February 27, 2010

DVDebut: Paul Weitz's shamefully pleasureable CIRQUE DU FREAK: The Vampire's Assistant

Misunderstood, under-seen and -- god knows -- under-appreciated, CIRQUE DU FREAK: The Vampire's Assistant turns out to be that rare, worthwhile mainstream variation on vampires for which TrustMovies has been waiting a blood moon or longer.  Witty as hell, fast-moving, funny and smart, the film has been brought to amazing life by Paul Weitz (below) as director & co-adapter (w/ Brian Helgeland) of the book series by Darren Shan.

I am flummoxed by the lack of response (critical -- 37% on Rotten Tomatoes -- and commercial: a dud at the box-office) to this delightful piece, which is being billed by RT as a "horror/suspense" movie!?  Get over it: Cirque du Freak (the movie version, at least: I haven't read the books) does not intend to offer horror and suspense.  Instead, it's a teenager's adventure tale that just happens to feature vampires and weird, freaky circus attractions.

It's first of all fun, with lots of gooey, faux-gory, silly/grizzly and quite colorful (see above) effects that are much more amusing and creative than frightening, and it rings a host of charming changes on the vampire theme.  It moves along like a house afire but is never difficult to keep up with because Weitz has the smarts to stop every now and then -- just briefly -- for a joke, a witticism, or a piece of wonderment.

The exposition is made into visual fun, rather than something lengthy and boring, and the movie is cast extremely well with all sorts of interesting actors -- from Salma Hayek (above) as the bearded lady and lover/confidante of the movie's real hero (Larten Crepsley, played by the wonderful John C. Reilly: who'd have thought this actor would handle a smart, sexy leading man role so very well?), Japan's Ken Watanabe as Mr. Tall; the adorable-as-ever Patrick Fugit (below, left) as the snake boy, and many more (including Willem Dafoe, Michael Cerveris (center, two photos above), Orlando Jones and even Ray Stevenson).

The teenagers are handled by Josh Hutcherson (shown below, left), Chris Massoglia (above, center, and below, right) and Jessica Carlson (above, right, who has a little surprise up her sleeve -- well, skirt, actually); each is just fine and ought to have pleased the particular audience for whom the movie has been designed.  Why did it not?  Perhaps teens must now be sated by copious blood and gore rather than the clever/creepy kind displayed here?  Has youth lost all sense of wonderment and fun?  Does it no longer require "adventure" -- which is what this movie offers above all?
If so, that's sad.

So crisply and divertingly has Mr. Weitz delivered his goods (economically, too) that the movie seems to have barely begun when -- boom! -- it has finished, paving the way for a sequel or two, for which I, for one, can barely wait.  Too bad the film's lack of success seems to have ruled this out. Perhaps better DVD sales will spawn a continuation.  We live in hope.

Cirque du Freak made its DVDebut this past week.  You can find it for sale or rent from your video source of choice.

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