It’s getting downright batty trying to keep all these vampires straight.
You have your traditional vampires (“Nosferatu”), your blond slayer foils (“Buffy: The Vampire Slayer”), your sexy vamps (“True Blood”), your Euro children vampires (“Let the Right One In”) and your melancholy teenage variety (“Twilight”).
The latest entry to this overcrowded field is “Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant,” which arrives with quixotic dreams of a franchise of its own. The source material this time is a series of young adult books known as “Cirque du Freak” or “The Saga of Darren Shan,” written by Darren O’Shaughnessy — who writes under his protagonist’s name, Darren Shan.
We meet the world of “Cirque du Freak” through Darren (Chris Massoglia), a popular, straight-A highschooler whom his rebellious best friend, Steve (Josh Hutcherson), calls “Mr. Perfect.” His parents lecture him on the path to a “happy, productive” life with the depressingly rigid mantra: “College. Job. Family.”
Though Darren is wide-eyed and naive, he harbors a love of spiders. Steve idolizes vampires.
Both get a front-row seat to their dark secrets when a traveling freak show comes to town. The main attraction is Crepsley (John C. Reilly), whom Steve recognizes as a vampire.
Darren is taken in by Crepsley and lives among the freaks of the touring circus. Steve casts his lot not with Crepsley, but Muraugh (Ray Stevenson), a vampaneze (a cross between a vampire and a chimpanzee).
It turns out that there’s a centuries-long feud between vampires (who merely sedate their prey and take a taste of blood) and vampaneze (who still take the vulgar, old-fashioned approach to killing people).
Reilly (a fine actor out of place here) takes being a vampire seriously, but his best bits are his amusing scoffing at conventional vampire traits. He pronounces, “Vampires don’t need cell phones!”
Such jokes are the highlights of the film and suggest what it could have been: an out-andout comedy.
Instead, “Cirque du Freak” might be the single most overstuffed movie of the year. The supernatural and its accompanying history of half-vampires and vampaneze never establishes itself as anything but ridiculous.