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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014

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"Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away" sailed into theaters this past Friday.
"Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away" sailed into theaters this past Friday.

Fan-pleasing trapezing abounds in "Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away"

In 2007's "Knocked Up," Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd memorably head off to Las Vegas to watch Cirque du Soleil under the influence of some psychedelic mushrooms. They sit and watch with giggly wonder as the troupe's members leap around, cling to poles at lofty heights and bend their muscular forms into shapes seemingly exclusive to gummi creations. Of course, the drugs eventually go bad, and the show turns into a nightmarish slurry of creepy costumes, weird sets and an oversized man-baby. 

I'm not just referencing this scene because it's almost impossible to think about "Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away" without also remembering Rudd and Rogen giggling like schoolboys – a feat made even more impossible considering "Knocked Up's" sort-of sequel, "This Is 40," was released on the same day, a scheduling quirk that absolutely had to have been on purpose. It's because the troupe's 3-D cinematic sampler can now offer fans a mild taste of the duo's dazed amazement, no shrooms necessary.

There is technically a story in "Worlds Away." A young girl named Mia (Cirque performer Erika Linz) is checking out an old-school traveling circus in her small town when she catches the eye of the handsome Aerialist (Igor Zaripov, another Cirque member), the star acrobat. Unfortunately, she gets his attention at the wrong time – in the middle of his trapeze act – and the Aerialist ends up falling to his death.

Or so you'd think. Instead of going splat, the Aerialist goes through the sandy ground and winds up in a strange circus-themed alternate dimension. In her panic, Mia follows and tries to find him while segments from Cirque du Soleil's portfolio of real life shows distract her. She's very motivated to find her true love ... just as soon as this sweet wirework routine is all done. And this trampoline number. And this water dance. And so on.

So yeah, the frame story is pretty flimsy, but if "Worlds Apart" was held together by floss for the first half, the second half is tied together by overcooked spaghetti. The movie hits the midway point and pretty much abandons the lovers' tale, suddenly throwing in several Beatles sequences, an Elvis number and a chase scene between unknown mystical beings that takes place on a massive rotating Plinko board. The film would've been better off just selling itself as a 90-minute highlight reel instead of incorporating a story that's like a puzzle whose pieces are slowly melting into a pile of mush.

That being said, "Worlds Apart" is an impressive pile of mush (put that quote on the poster), and if viewed solely as a Now That's What I Call Music-like compilation of Cirque's greatest hits, the movie becomes easier to forgive. The acrobatics are often remarkable, with performers swinging through the air, clinging and jumping from whatever objects are available. The Elvis trampoline number is utterly useless, but it sure looks cool, with the actors bounding and flipping about with fascinating ease. Anything involving the vertical stage is also a marvel.

Helping Cirque du Soleil land its jump to the big screen is the fact that the 3-D is actually well used. There's a lot of depth, making the actors' stunts really leap off the screen and pleasantly adding to the sense of wonder. I suppose that's the benefit of having James Cameron, 3-D's number one cheerleader, as a producer.

Admittedly, there are a few missteps with the technology. Director Andrew Adamson, the man behind the first two "Shrek" and Narnia movies, shoots most of the soaring trapeze segments from the side, which doesn't really capture the stomach-knotting thrill of dangling over a dark abyss by one's toe. The sense of height just isn't there. However, "Worlds Away" still uses 3-D better than about 95% of 3-D releases this year.

Here's an easy test to see whether you will like "Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away:" When you first saw that it was coming out, were you excited? Did you think "Wow, that's a thing I should see?" Or did your brain forget its existence before you even finished reading the title? If you answered yes to the first two questions, well, then merry Christmas.

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