A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that amped-up violence and language make The Vampire's Assistant movie too mature for younger tween fans of the Cirque du Freak books it's based on. There are several disturbing scenes of vampires stabbing, punching, kicking, and otherwise wiping the floor with each other (although none of it gets particularly gory), along with potentially disturbing images of circus "freaks" and fairly regular use of words like "s--t," "a--hole," and the like. Although the sexuality is on the mild side (especially for a vampire tale), there are a few kisses and a brief glimpse of the protagonist about to suck blood from a willing love interest.
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What's the story?
Based on the first three books of the popular young-adult Cirque du Freak saga, THE VAMPIRE'S ASSISTANT follows straight-laced high-schooler Darren Shan (Chris Massoglia), who's unexpectedly pulled into an underground world of traveling circus "freaks" and warring vampire factions. After Darren and his bad-boy best friend Steve (Josh Hutcherson) attend a one-night-only performance of the Cirque du Freak, Steve becomes convinced that sLarten Crepsley (John C. Reilly) is a vampire and privately begs Crepsley to turn him into one as well. Crepsley refuses but eventually agrees to turn Darren into his "half vampire" assistant in exchange for providing Steve with the antidote to a fatal spider bite. Darren saves his best friend's life -- but is then forced to abandon him and his family to join Crepsley. Just as Darren is getting used to his new environment -- making friends with a snake boy (Patrick Fugit), a monkey-tailed girl (Jessica Carlson), and a bearded lady (Salma Hayek) -- his new way of life is threatened by the evil Mr. Tiny (Michael Cerveris), who recruits Steve into joining a band of bloodthirsty "Vampanese" that wants to start a war with the less-violent vampires.
Is it any good?
Director Paul Weitz would have been better off adapting just one book, since the conflation of three novels (even ones in a series) rarely translates well. (Think of the disappointing Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events.) Consequently, The Vampire's Assistant drags on for almost an hour before Darren is even made a "half vampire." And by the time he joins the self-proclaimed freaks, the audience isn't able to fully immerse itself into their intriguing culture because the action shifts to the battling vampire groups. There's a ridiculous montage of Darren hanging with his new friends -- flirting with Rebecca the monkey girl, jamming with Evera the snake boy, and eating barbecue with the entire clan. It doesn't help the bland characterizations that Massoglia says everything in an emotionless monotone.
Hutcherson, who was brilliant in Bridge to Terabithia, nails the insecure, impetuous character of Steve and deserves more leading -- not sidekick -- roles. The familiar actors in the supporting cast -- including Hayek, Jake Krakowski, Orlando Jones, and Willem Dafoe -- are frustratingly underused, while Tony-Award-winning actor Cerveris chews up the scenery as a jowly mastermind with a penchant for purple accessories. Reilly is, as expected, laugh-inducing, from his hilariously awful Ronald McDonald hairdo to his many quips about vampire life. Bits and pieces of the movie work fairly well, but as a whole, it feels much longer than it is, and it makes you wish it had been adapted into a TV series instead, where all of the characters could have let their freak flags fly, instead of being reduced to just a few sequences.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how this vampire thriller differs from other vampire-themed movies and shows. How are the vampires depicted? Why are vampires so popular?
How are Darren and Steve examples of "foils"? What kind of person do they each represent? Kids: Name other famous literary foils (here's one to start you off: Twilight's Edward and Jacob).
- In theaters: October 23, 2009
- On DVD or streaming: February 23, 2010
- Cast: Chris Massoglia, John C. Reilly, Josh Hutcherson, Salma Hayek
- Director: Paul Weitz
- Studio: Universal Pictures
- Genre: Thriller
- Run time: 109 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: sequences of intense supernatural violence and action, disturbing images, thematic elements and some language
- Last updated: March 14, 2020
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