"Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away" has plenty of eye candy. But you'd expect that of any 3-D film built around the hot-dog acrobatics and seemingly magical stagecraft of the Montreal-based circus, now a global brand known for its imaginative yet rigorous integration of music, costumes, sets, story and performance.
What the movie lacks, unfortunately, is coherence.
As anyone knows who's followed Cirque du Soleil's live shows over the years, the circus' hallmark is tightly unified theatrical packaging. In the best of its shows, the design components are so inseparable from the acts — contortionists, aerialists, strongmen, clowns and other category-defying performers — that the shows work as single unified wholes, not the hodgepodges of disconnected daredevil acts of a more traditional circus.
Typically, there's a theme with most Cirque shows: insects, as in "Ovo"; human evolution in "Totem." The spectacle serves the larger whole.
The problem with "Worlds Away" isn't a shortage of spectacle. The 3-D makes everything look amazing. The eye-popping costumes, the impossibly fit and sexy bodies flying through the air (or, just as frequently here, water) have never looked better. And there is a story in "Worlds Away," albeit a flimsy one.
A young woman named Mia (Erica Linz) wanders into a rinky-dink circus, where she becomes infatuated with a handsome aerialist (Igor Zaripov). When the aerialist falls while executing a trick, and is swallowed by the earth below him, Mia follows him through a hole in the sand, entering a nightmarish world of gymnastic excess.
But the film, which has been cobbled together exclusively from Cirque's permanent live shows at various and sundry Las Vegas casinos, just doesn't make much sense. At times the aerialist seems to have been taken prisoner by some kabuki S&M cult; at others, he appears to be hanging out in this dream world willingly, toying with Mia's affections in a perverse game of cat and mouse.
One performance is choreographed to an Elvis song (taken off from Cirque's "Viva Elvis" show). Other acts are set to Beatles music (from Cirque's "Beatles Love" show at the Mirage). They're toe-tapping and often visually astonishing, but weird, even if you take them as surrealistically as they are intended.
Parts of the film resemble a kung fu movie; others, soft-core porn, as in an aquatic tour de force put on by a scantily clad swimmer/gymnast whom we watch flipping and flopping in a large glass bowl that resembles a half-moon, like some kind of wet pole dance. That latter act is, admittedly, a show-stopper, but what does it have to do with anything?
Other beautiful touches — a riderless moving tricycle and a rabbit head that turns into some alien creature before wandering off — are random and unintegrated.
Plus, it's just plain distracting, especially in 3-D, to see all the cables and hooks that make the stage shows possible. In front of a live audience, they disappear. On the screen, they're an all too obvious reminder of the mundane mechanics behind the magic.
If you've ever seen a real Cirque du Soleil show — not one patched together from assorted moving parts borrowed from a dozen shows — "Worlds Away" is a bit of a disappointment.
As an introductory sampler for the uninitiated, it's not half bad.