Cirque du meek

Will Ghosh 29 October 2009

Will Ghosh suggests this is a fine film – for those who leave their brains in the foyer

Cirque du Freak – 1hr 49mins, 12a


Despite being conveniently shoe-horned into cinemas a month before the latest Twilight, it would seem unfair to focus too much on the very obvious parallels between the two films (and their target audiences); but Cirque du Freak doesn’t make resisting temptation at all easy.

First of all, it’s worth mentioning the hair, a quivering, slicked -back elephant in the room. I have to say, given that Chris Massoglia will probably receive his share of criticism for this film, and he’s actually quite good in the family and comic scenes (although action hero he ain’t).

He just seems to be cruelly served, first and foremost, by the hairdresser, who transforms his initial gummy proto-mop into a perpetual wave, and then into a kind of Al Pacino back-comb, between one non-descript ‘Vampire Training’ scene and another. They also make him throw on a red leather jacket with prominent lapels, and his character toys with a kind of disaffected swagger: they Pattinsonise him.

The plot is pretty ludicrous: two best friends go to a freak show of the variously undead/deformed, where, shockingly, they turn out to be the two sons of Adam coveted by opposing denominations of bloodsucker: the Vampires and the Vamparenes or Vampinis or something along those lines – it doesn’t really matter.

Darren (Massoglia), our slightly apologetic hero, steals a deadly spider, which then bites his mate. The only way he can get John C. Reilly (a Vampire) to administer the antidote is to become a ‘half vampire’ himself.

The mate then goes bad in a pretty reversible kind of way (if they make enough money to merit a sequel), and the whole thing is refereed, somewhat spuriously, by the enormously fat Mr Tiny (yes, it’s like the very worst moments of Agent Cody Banks) who’s pretty keen on catalysing the threatened conflict for no other apparent motive than that he wants ‘to see a marvellous war’.

This rather gets to the heart of what is not an awful film, just a half-baked one. There are plenty of potentially interesting strands here, in what is not an original conceit. There’s plenty of scope for comedy, which threatens to work when they juxtapose various forms of vampire schmaltz with a hero who isn’t in on the joke, but the hair pops up to ruin the humour, being taken by everyone with ashen-faced sincerity.

Equally, if we’re going for a coming of age, ‘time corrupting’ idea, there is a very obvious blood-sucking/virginity parallel hinted at a couple of times by possibly the world’s least convincing love-interest, but it doesn’t seem to hold the director’s attention.

It must be remembered, however, that it’s not unendurably bad. Reilly is perfectly entertaining, and Massoglia, as I’ve mentioned, fulfils his role of looking attractive in a nondescript tween-baiting kind of way (although the less said about Willem Dafoe the better).

The conclusion is even watchable, nearly convincing, and you can almost forget the opening sequences’ horrible identity crisis (just how much Tim Burton can it be bothered to imitate?). Even this, however, is punctuated by a horrible lack of thoroughness. Why are the two friends at war? Because it was destined to be so in the ‘Book’. Which book? What’s it about? Why hasn’t it been mentioned before?

Finally, awfully, it takes itself seriously enough to have its villain look rather embarrassed, announcing Macbeth’s ‘So fair an foul a day I have not seen’, by which time you’re laughing at, rather than with the film.

Cirque du Freak is now showing at Vue Cinemas

Will Ghosh