Right now, the entertainment world is over saturated with all things vampires. From the insane phenomenon of Twilight to True Blood and The Vampire Diaries and even the popular music act Vampire Weekend (OK, they aren't really vampires... at least that I know of). So I was a little bit skeptical about the timing of this new offering, even though the Cirque Du Freak series of books have been around for almost a decade. Are they just cashing in on a trend? However, the film has a phenomenal cast, and I do like anything to do with vampires, circuses and freak shows, so I was slightly intrigued, and after the fun ride that was Zombieland, I was hopeful about the prospect of another horror-comedy. But this is no Zombieland.
The film starts out pretty strong. The set up is great. Two teenage friends Darren (Chris Massoglia) and Steve (Josh Hutcherson) are suffering through high school. Darren's popular, but has uber-controlling parents, an obsession with spiders, and a best friend who no one really likes. Steve is the said best friend, who is enthralled with all vampire lore. He studies it and is desperately hoping to become one, because his home life, or lack thereof, really sucks.
The twosome are tossed an invite to a traveling underground freak show (their straight-laced small-town disapproves of all things out of the ordinary) by Mr. Tiny (a nearly unrecognizable Michael Cerveris) who rides in a car with the plate Des-Tiny. He's out to start a war between the vampires (kinder gentler vamps who don't kill the humans they feed off) and the Vampaneze (cold-blood killers that seem to bear a lot of resemblance to a street gang). But the kids don't know any of that and they blindly head to the freak show for a night of rule-breaking entertainment.
The show itself is utterly fabulous! I loved every single minute of it. Ken Watanabe is an exceedingly tall man who acts as the MC. Orlando Jones is Alexander Ribs, a man with visible organs. Jane Krakowski is Corma Limbs, a woman who can regenerate body parts. Think Claire on Heroes but more tolerable. Frankie Faison is Rhamus Twobellies... whose name is pretty self explanatory. Kristen Schaal (who Flight of the Conchords fans will easily identify) is Gertha Teeth, a lady with a super strong set of chompers and presumably a good dental plan. And Patrick Fugit is Evra Von, a snake man who really wants to be a rock star. Salma Hayek is Madame Truska, a fortune telling, bearded lady. Two for one. And the headliner of the show is Larten Crepsley (John C. Reilly) who is a vampire with a magic dancing spider.
Then there's a series of unfortunate events. Darren ends up stealing the gorgeous lethal spider, and Steve gets turned down by Larten and his mustache twirling vamp friend Gavner Purl (Willem Dafoe) when he begs to become a vampire, then the spider bites the assy Steve, who just wants to kill it. Darren has to bargain for his friend's life, in turn Larten wants Darren to become a half-vampire, and work as his assistant, doing jobs during the day.
That's well and good, but when Mr. Tiny gets wind of all this, he finds a way to turn Steve against Darren, setting up a battle against good and evil that will have the vampires warring against the Vampaneze, despite their truce.
I can't say how much I loved the freak show, or the camp filled with all of the unique people, from the wolfman to the seemingly "normal" girl who Darren develops a crush on, and the poor little Dobby-the-house-elf looking creatures who roam around biting people. All of that was fantastic, the cast was great, but what wasn't enjoyable was the actual vampire stuff, and the lackluster war. I was OK with Vampire transference happening between fingernails instead of a bite to the neck, but their "flitting" (high speed movement) is just ridiculous looking. It makes the fast running on Twilight look like the most convincing special effect you've ever seen.
Part of the failure of this film is to blame on the fact that Josh Hutcherson is the least convincing villain I've ever seen. Look, I liked the kid in Bridge to Terabithia and all, but this is not the role he's cut out for. He's just not a strong enough actor to pull it off, and unfortunately he's at the crux of the entire story and potential franchise. The movie leaves so many unresolved issues, and quite the open end, that it was obviously meant as a set up for the actual forthcoming war, but based on this first one, I'm not sure I'd care enough to run out and see a second installment. I was so excited at the outset, but between a weak star, a lot of extraneous scenes that went on far too long, and the unresolved ending, I left the movie feeling largely unsatisfied, though it might be worth a rental on DVD, just to watch the cirque parts.
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