"Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away 3-D" isn't a great movie by any stretch of the back muscles, but it can't be beat as a 91-minute commercial for the organization's live circus-based spectacles around the world, especially in Las Vegas.
Writer/producer/director Andrew Adamson's movie (produced with 3-D digital pioneer and champion James Cameron) seems to get stuck somewhere between a plot-driven fantasy film and a documentary reproduction of the Cirque du Soleil's visually lavish stage shows.
"Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away 3-D"★ ★ ½
Starring: Erica Linz, Igor Zaripov
Directed by: Andrew Adamson
Other: A Paramount Pictures release. Rated PG. 97 minutes
"Worlds Away" begins as a dialogue-challenged Alice in Wonderland quest by a young woman named Mia (Erica Linz) who wanders into a rather ominous traveling circus. Urged by a sad clown (John Clarke) to attend the main event, Mia receives a bill advertising the sexy, shirtless trapeze star called The Aerialist (Igor Zaripov).
Mia becomes fascinated by the handsome Aerialist. And he by her. For when their eyes lock, he loses his concentration and plummets to the ground. As he hits, the ground gives way to a giant hole that sucks in all the surrounding earth, including Mia, who has jumped into the ring to help him.
Now trapped in a surrealistic world of sand decorated by giant, illuminated tents, Mia begins her search for The Aerialist through this strange, exotic land cobbled together from seven Cirque du Soleil shows performing in different parts of the world.
Some of these set pieces boggle the brain, rake the retinas and even defy known laws of physics.
To be savored is Mia's and The Aerialist's confrontation with generic bad guys who shoot arrows at them (Duck! They're in 3-D!). The arrows stick into a giant, shifting, monolithic wall, creating handholds the performers use to launch an ingeniously choreographed fight sequence where the losers slip and simply fall out of sight.
Other spectacles include super-muscled high-wire performers suspending each other in the air with just the strength of their feet and necks.
A particularly limber female acrobat performs an alluring display of athleticism inside what appears to be a giant wineglass filled with water. (Is this a Playboy magazine promotion?)
"Worlds Away" doesn't short anyone on sheer spectacle, vibrant colors, quirky costumes and strange characters.
What the movie lacks is a real dramatic arc and any kind of magnetism between its two stars, a necessary component if we're to believe that the connection between Mia and The Aerialist is so strong, it acts as beacon to each other in this otherworldly place.
Zaripov and Linz suggest the appearance of otherworldly denizens, but radiate none of the chemistry their flimsy plot demands for it to work.
Adamson, who directed "Shrek" and "The Chronicles of Narnia," gives us a freight train of Cirque du Soleil setpieces, one banally following another with rhyme, but no reason.
The movie's one Elvis number features guys dressed up as superheroes bouncing off trampolines. Why? Because the movie forgets to explain that Elvis loved comic book superheros as a child, a fact included in the Las Vegas show where this segment came from.
By the time Mia and The Aerialist finally share a passionless, aerial expression of love together, we've seen an overwhelmingly visual, underwhelmingly emotional, big-screen Cirque du Soleil plug overdosing on Beatles tunes.