Our vampire glut continues with Vampire's Assistant, which replaces fangs with fingernails and gives vampires "healing spit" powers. The good parts are enchanting, but the copious bad parts will leave a "bad blood" taste in your mouth. Spoilers ahead...
This little teen flick is based on a popular YA series by Darren Shan, Cirque Du Freak. The long-running book series folows Darren (Chris Massoglia) through his half-vampire life, with his undead master Larten Crepsley (John C. Reilly). The film is based on the first book of the series with a collection of strange supernatural creatures, freaks and multiple vampire fingernail-scratching face offs.
In Darren Shan's world vampires don't have fangs — instead, they have super sharp nails which they use like sorority girls to scratch each other to death, when they're not flinging tombstones at their opponents' heads. The vamps also have "super spit," which will heal skin slashes. As someone who's more grossed out by germs than blood, I cannot even begin to describe the seat-squirming I endured in the final vampire battle, when each blow was followed by a hand lick and spit rub. UGH GERMS.
But I'm getting ahead of myself: the heart of this story is about two boys. Too terribly acted, horribly constructed, dialogue-mumbling boys, who fall head-first into this world of supernatural mystery. Besides our hero Darren, there's Steve (Josh Hutcherson). Darren is good and Steve is evil, and that's pretty much all you need to know about their characterizations. Through a mix of happenstance and destiny, both boys become vampires, and end up on opposite sides of the Vampire-versus-Vampaneze war. And let me tell you, reading the word "Vampaneze" isn't nearly as funny as hearing John C. Reilly say it over and over, deadly serious. Quick, hide — the Vampaneze are coming!
The — ahem — Vampaneze are evil, and murder humans for their blood, while the Vampires are goodly creatures who sedate humans with their super breath and only take a little bit of blood, then heal the wound. Oh yeah, they have magic breath too, and they can fly/flit around.
John C. Reilly is a Vampire, and he and the foppish Willem Dafoe used to be generals in the war against the Vampaneze. But now they are neutral, and Reilly lives in the circus. One of the things Vampire's Assistant has going for it is a sick list of actual actors cast as carneys in the Cirque Du Freak, 30 Rock's Jane Krakowski can rip her arms off and regenerate them back — which she sometimes eats, skeeving me out like the kid that ate his scabs in grade school. Patrick Fugit is the Snake Boy, Ken Watanabe is Mr. Tall, who is tall, Salma Hayek plays the psychic bearded lady Madame Truskaand, there's a freak with two super stomachs, a man with no midsection, an adorable freak with a set of powerful chompers, a wolf-man, and more. The freaks were by far my favorite part of the film, but sadly they were on screen all of 20 minutes. Still the circus freaks were wonderfully enjoyable and even magical, and they should have their own series on VH1.
But it does get a bit old, when the members of this talented troupe keep calling their place of work "the Cirque." Why did you join The Cirque? I've been in The Cirque for years. That's life in The Cirque. You need to prove yourself to stay in The Cirque, Forget it Jake. It's Cirque-town. Enough already — I get it. You're just using a fancy way of saying Circus over and over.
Yet, the vampire war is the main axis on which this story revolves, and sadly those damn Vampaneze had to go and make Steve, Darren's besty, their evil leader — so too much time is spent fighting Vampaneze and not in THE CIRQUE.
But this allows for plenty of scenes of John C. Reilly being a wise and sexy old vampire. Even when he's delivering the most bat-shit ridiculous lines like, "You have bad blood — I can't make you a vampire. Oh, you have good blood," he totally makes them work. I did not think he would win me over as Crepsley, but damn it if he didn't have the audience laughing at even the lamest of jokes. He's that good of an actor. He sold the vampire bit, and even mastered some strange sort of sing-song talk that apparently vampires have. Crepsley takes Darren under his wing and teaches him the vampire ways, meanwhile his mean bestie is being groomed to be the Vampaneze King, which I assume comes with some sort of t-shirt that says "That's Vampaneze, Bitch!"
So the battle between good and Japanese vampires, no wait, sorry — vampires and Vampaneze — is on, and Darren and Steve, who's now become completely evil — but it's okay, because he tells you his Mom is a drunk twice, so you know, issues — have to fight. See they really hate each other now....
And that's pretty much what happens. Ridiculous, no? It's not True Blood insane, but it walks the fine line between "that's weird," and "I don't get it." But if you're going to the movie for Salma, don't — she's not in it nearly enough. You should go if you like tween vampire movies, if you like tween movies generally, to hear people use the word Vampaneze in a sentence, and if you want to see something fun. When this film is good — and that means when John C. Reilly is on screen — it's a lot of fun. But when the two main kids or anyone else who's not a freak takes the wheel, it's a mess. Like "Macbeth death scene quoting" mess. Still I left laughing and wanting more hot John C. Reilly vampire action, which is a new experience for probably everyone in cinema.