Cirque de Freak

Rated 2.0

Darren Shan’s novels, in which a teenager named Darren Shan (Chris Massoglia) joins a traveling freak show as apprentice to a vampire (John C. Reilly), come to the screen courtesy of director Paul Weitz and his co-writer Brian Helgeland. A series is clearly intended (the movie treats the first two of Shan’s 12 books), but this installment is an inauspicious beginning. The story is interesting, with some tangy dialogue (probably thanks to Helgeland) and decent performances—especially Reilly’s offbeat turn as the blood-drinking mentor and Jessica Carlson as a winsome “monkey girl.” But Weitz’s direction is maladroit, with clumsy staging, sloppy camera work (by J. Michael Muro) and risibly cheap special effects. It looks rather forlorn on the screen, like a sci-fi channel quickie blown up too big.