"Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away" — ★★1/2 — Erica Linz, Igor Zaripov; PG (some dramatic images and mild sensuality); in wide release.
Cirque du Soleil movies are a lot like ballet films — long on beauty and artistry, short on story.
"Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away" is a 3-D catalog of the wonders of the Cirque company's Las Vegas shows, from "Believe" and "Mystere" to "O" and "Viva Elvis." It is a feast for the eyes, an appreciation of the accomplished art of the jugglers, tumblers, mimes, contortionists, acrobats and aerialists that have made Cirque a brand name for family-friendly wonders, even in Sin City.
Live, in person, these shows are physical and technical spectacles, the state-of-the-art in what is possible in live performance. On film? The spectacle is a little less spectacular, the sappy Enye-ish score monotonous and the "story" takes on importance that it cannot sustain. Their movies are what the live shows never are — boring.
"Chronicles of Narnia" director Andrew Adamson has written a connecting tale to take us through the tents that hold these Vegas "Worlds." A gamine (Erica Linz) stumbles into a visiting circus in her town, tumbles for the handsome aerialist (Igor Zaripov) and when he — distracted — falls from the heights, she is sucked into the same sandy vortex that opens in the floor of the Circus Marvelous tent that swallows him.
In the alternate reality beneath the sand, Mia, the gamine, wanders into tents of amazement — dazzling water ballets and aerial spectacles, trampoline acts set to the music of Elvis, a stunning visualization of "Octopus Garden" by the Beatles, moments of menace and mime and magic.
It's all quite lovely, mesmerizing — and right on the edge of sleep-inducing.
Then, just as you're about to doze off, the "Viva Elvis" and "The Beatles Love" segments turn up and give the show momentum, and a beat we can dance to.
Cheaper than a trip to Vegas, "Worlds Away" is, even in gorgeous 3-D, a wonderful reminder of the indispensable place Cirque du Soleil holds in popular entertainment. They're fabulous, even on film. But there's no substitute for live performance.
"Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away" is rated PG; running time: 89 minutes.