Meet Darren, he’s 16 going on immortal…So says the tagline from the movie. The story of Cirque Du Freak centers around a 16 year old boy who, along with his best friend Steve are going through some of the usual teenager stuff. Darren’s popular at school, gets good grades and has a good life at home. Steve is unpopular, angry, his dad isn’t around and his mom’s an abusive alcoholic. Just as the 2 of them are resolving some friendship issues, a strange visitor drives by and tosses a flyer at them for a traveling freakshow; the wheels of fate are set into motion.
From there, the storyline continues in a Harry Potter-ish kind of way. While the freakshow isn’t Hogwarts, the assistant theme works out in a “learning to be a vampire” kind of thing for both boys even though they end up going in different directions. The underlying storyline starts to emerge which includes a feud between 2 vampire factions – the normal vampires who don’t kill humans, they just daze them and “sip” from their unconscious victim and the vampanese (sorry, but that name just sucks) who hunt and kill humans. Darren and Steve both end up on opposite ends of the feud with Darren joining up with the freakshow and the non-killing vampires while Steve goes to the dark side.
Considering the movie is based on a book series, the ending wasn’t a big surprise as this film acts as a set up for more movies down the road. The story overall is ok but predictable and has some really cheesy moments in terms of the dialog.
Visually, the effects are ok, but not mind blowing. The scenes are set up nicely in the freakshow and some of the freaks are pretty wild. The makeup and wardrobe here are a bit iffy with some dated looking clothing in the kid’s high school and some shoddy makeup done on John C. Reilly’s character. The opening titles are pretty cool and have a Tim Burton kind of feel to them.
The acting isn’t awesome. The tone is a kind of forced exaggeration which comes off a bit cartoony. This is a bit disappointing considering the actors involved so I place this shortcoming on director Paul Weitz who’s known for movies like In Good Company and American Pie. His directing style doesn’t lend itself very well to the story of the film even though he also worked on the screenplay. The choice for the lead actor (Chris Massoglia) wasn’t the best either as he looks like a deer caught in headlights most of the time which makes him hard to connect with. Even when he’s leaving his family for good he’s not that emotional or connected to the situation even though he’s supposedly close to them. He seems like he was picked for his looks not his abilities; they could’ve done better.
There are some good moments in here, be sure to check out the deleted scenes if you get the DVD, some of the stuff in there should’ve been left in the movie as there are some substantial story line plotpoints that never should’ve been cut. The story foundation and the majority of the talent is there including: John C. Reilly, Willem Dafoe, Selma Hayek, and Orlando Jones (who’s under-utilized). So, overall I’d say that the pieces of the puzzle were all laid out, they just weren’t put together all that well.
reviewed by Sean McKnight