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I got what I was looking for out of Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant, which was a good performance by John C. Reilly and a comical look at the kind of goofy vampire drama made most popular lately. Reilly stars as a very old and bored vampire traveling and performing with a circus that prominently features its freak show. A prank played on him by two teens, one of whom desires too strongly to be a vampire, leads to Reilly acquiring his own titular assistant, Darren, who joins the circus.

Where the movie excels is introducing the family relations that exist within the circus and Darren’s finding his place among them. Given the one girl with the circus his age the plot point there is hardly difficult to see coming. But characters like Patrick Fugit’s wannabe rock star, demanding attention for his talent while being put on display as a deformity, make the movie much more interesting than the writing otherwise gives it a chance to be.

Where the movie stumbles is in the overstuffing of the plot. A slimy, mysterious individual called Mr. Tiny manipulates the coming war between Vampires and something similar called Vampaneze. I was never able to figure out the difference between the two. The Vampaneze were predatory where the Vampire (just Reilly until Darren’s vampire balls drop) act, well, mopey. I was never clear, though, on the basis of the war, what either side wanted or what Mr. Tiny’s stake in the conflict amounted to. There was simply too much plot and too many unexplained introductions inside the 109 minute runtime to answer those questions.

Performances like Fugit’s, and Salma Hayek’s, help elevate the material beyond the simplistic jokes and flat plotting. Reilly, who naturally gets the best material to work with, relishes his cheesy woe-is-me Anne Riceian dialogue. He chews every line to pulp, leaving no drama unwrung. But where Fugit was able to do a lot with a little, other talented actors were criminally shortchanged. Kristen Schaal and Jane Krakowski in particular get barely more than cameos and much of the time wasted on the Vampaneze could have gone toward them. Willem Dafoe makes bookend cameos of which I cannot begin to explain the significance. There seemed to be a lot more for him to do and say that the movie never got around to letting him.

Oddly, the action of the movie is more interesting and well done than one would expect from the genre and its comedic nature. But far too much time in the film is spent on these fist fights where it could have added more jokes or some explanation of the background of the Vampires vs. the Vampaneze. The conclusion of the film seemed to want an opening for a sequel and was too pat for my liking. As a John C. Reilly comedy vehicle Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant succeeds, but as a film, not so much. 2 ½ stars


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