"Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away" arrives in theaters today, but it really belongs in the gift shops of Las Vegas, where seven hotels host their own Cirque du Soleil productions. "Worlds Away" is essentially a souvenir video of the Canadian troupe's greatest hits, artiest moments and Beatles interpretations, sewn together with a storybook romance. Loyal fans may love the nonstop riot of imagery and music, though others may not even comprehend what's happening on screen.
Cirque du Soleil's aspirational and hugely popular blend of high culture, middlebrow surrealism, New Age rock and pan-ethnic exotica -- all window dressing for what's basically old-fashioned acrobatics -- has never seemed terribly cohesive, but here it makes less sense than a 1980s music video. The film's narrative throughline, in which lonely Mia chases a handsome aerialist (Erica Linz and Igor Zaripov, veterans of the Cirque's "KÁ" production), makes the film even more maddening as your mind struggles to connect dozens of unrelated set pieces. The result is a Cirque du Frappé of flailing mermaids, burning clowns and Mexican wrestlers trampolining to Elvis Presley songs.
You could focus on the amazingly physical performers, but writer-director Andrew Adamson ("Shrek") robs us of even that pleasure. Despite the vivid 3-D, the dark backgrounds remove all sense of perspective, making it hard to tell who's soaring and who's falling; the sky-high ballets, seen in close-up, might as well be on the ground. More fundamentally, this is a movie, which means the thrill of watching a single-take, no-safety-net performance is gone.
Most mangled of all are the segments from "The Beatles LOVE," which are either bafflingly random (roller-skate slapstick during the mournful "Blackbird"?) or exasperatingly literal (underwater dancing to "Octopus's Garden"). This self-satisfied film ends by supplying its own enthusiastic applause. If you're not asleep by then, join in.
PLOT A lonely girl follows a handsome trapeze artist into a fantasy world.
RATING PG (slightly suggestive imagery and fantasy-type battles)
CAST Erica Linz, Igor Zaripov
BOTTOM LINE The Canadian circus troupe's greatest hits and artiest moments, sliced and diced into an incoherent collage. For fans only.