Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant, Salma Hayek, John Reilly

David Lee / Universal

Review in a Hurry: Can't get your fill of bloodsuckers? Then drink up, hard-core fang fans, because Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant doesn't totally suck, though it's not very satisfying either. Still, this intermittently funny Freak show about a goody-goody kid who becomes part vampire provides a few treats for tween Halloweeners.

The Bigger Picture: Hoping there's more life yet in the undead genre, Universal Studios has a big, um, stake in the creation of another Twilight/Potter-like franchise and has assuredly set up a possible sequel. But after this disappointing first chapter, their vampire series might not see the light of day.

Adapted from the collection of young-adult novels, the film follows 16-year-old Darren (Chris Massoglia), who attends a one-night-only performance of the traveling Cirque du Freak. Quicker than you can say "something wicked this way comes," Darren enters into a dark pact with the show's vampiric emcee, wild-haired Crepsley (John C. Reilly)?an underworld-weary Willy Wonka of sorts.

Crepsley turns Darren into a "half-vampire," but the kid refuses to drink blood and even tries to return to his normal, small-town life. But when his bloodlust becomes overwhelming, Darren fears he'll harm his family and runs away with Crepsley's showbiz misfits.

At times kooky spooky, with a biting sense of humor, Cirque shows promise in its imaginative first act, but then this Freak train heads off the rails. Pacing gets uneven, subplots go unexplored, supporting characters pop in and out without much purpose and the story?as with many adaptations?suffers from narrative cram. If you haven't read the books, plot deets about the coming war between vampires will likely remain murky.

As the too-passive protagonist, Massoglia proves more bland than breakout, especially opposite his vibrant costars, many criminally underused here:

Salma Hayek as a big-breasted bearded lady, Ken Watanabe as the lopsided Cirque manager and Willem Dafoe as Crepsley's pal?and a dead ringer for Vincent Price.

The 180?a Second Opinion: Jane Krakowski is creepy-cool as a dancer who can repeatedly regrow her severed body parts. We want to see more of her...and then more of her again!


There's so much else to see, too?have a look in our Totally New Releases gallery!

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