Vampirism is the new monstrosity du jour, and with Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant, tweener boys get their own testosterone-infused variant of Twilight. Based on Darren Shan’s teen-lit novels, Paul Weitz’s adaptation charts the coming-of-age odyssey of Darren (Massoglia), a goody-two-shoes high-schooler who agrees to become half-vampire to save his best friend (Hutcherson). The Count responsible for Darren’s transformation is Larten Crepsley (Reilly, depressingly featureless), who works in the world’s oldest freak show and leads a faction of the bloodsucking undead.
Crepsley’s at odds with a murderous fanged gang of rivals, though given the film’s chintzy special effects, dreary adolescent drama and general dearth of imagination—the troupe’s main attractions are a dull snake boy and a bearded Salma Hayek—the most prominent emotion this comedy-horror saga elicits is apathy. Until, that is, The Vampire’s Assistant reveals itself to be a prologue for an all-out war in future installments, at which point the mismatching shots and recurring hollow maxims (“It’s not about what you are; it’s about who you are”) inspire bloodlust on the viewer’s part. At the very least, such triteness will dredge up a desire to keep the Weitz family—brother Chris was responsible for the leaden Golden Compass debacle—away from the first chapters of big-budget franchises.—Nick Schager