The vampire trend continues, but the only authentic bloodsuckers in Cirque du Freak are its producers and studio execs. Drawn from the young-adult books by UK author Darren Shan, Cirque has F/X creatures, teen angst and romance, mysterious backstories, and a brewing war between beasties. On paper, it's a perfect formula—Twilight meets X-Men meets Harry Potter—but the onscreen result is not the sum of its parts. Cirque du Freak opens in sunny suburbia, where bland high-schooler Darren (Chris Massoglia) hangs out with his ne'er-do-well buddy, Steve (Josh Hutcherson). Something wacky this way comes: The titular freak show is in town for one night only. The two sneak out to meet the freaks, including sardonic spider-tamer Larten (John C. Reilly), whom Steve recognizes from one of his occult books to be a 220-year-old vampire. Soon enough, Darren becomes a half-vampire (?) whose new love interest—a cute girl too insecure to show her monkey tail—teaches him that "being human is not about what you are, but who you are"; Darren battles the now-evil Steve who is also now-jealous because Darren got to become a vampire; and Willem Dafoe shows up looking like Vincent Price resurrected. Some of you are thinking: That sounds rad! And Cirque might have worked if it were either straight dark comedy or actually dark like its source material. Directed by Paul Weitz (American Pie), the movie suffers from the same tonal schizophrenia of that other recent goth wannabe, Jennifer's Body: Is it meant to be scary or funny? Oops, it's neither.
Reilly is abetted by fellow freak Salma Hayek.
Opens at area theaters, Fri., Oct. 23. Rated PG-13. 108 minutes.