Lord of the Dance 3D: Film Review

Timed for St. Paddy's day, this might be more entertaining after several pints of Guinness. 

Famed Irish-American dancer Michael Flatley fans the flames of his own mythology in this movie, which features performances with way more Vegas vulgarization than Emerald Isle mystique.

NEW YORK -- A vanity production so self-inflated they needed an extra dimension to contain it, Michael Flatley's Lord of the Dance 3D won't win many new fans for the high-stepping dancer. It might even cost him a few old ones.

Flatley has been milking this clackety-clack cash cow in sold-out arenas around the world since he broke away from the original Riverdance production to form his own troupe in 1995. While the live show spawned a previous filmed version in 1997, principal justification for this latest big-screen regurgitation appears to be the availability of 3D technology, the use of which is a yawn. If you're worried you'll spend 95 minutes ducking to avoid getting poked in the eye by a pixie boot, rest easy.

The other reason for a new film is the company's return to Dublin for a homecoming show at the O2 arena that marked Flatley's first time dancing his signature role since 1998. That performance is presented entirely without context, aside from some breathless introductory remarks from the man himself.

Spewing platitudinous catchphrases -- it's like pushing an elephant up a hill; against all odds; back into the lion's den; trust what's in your heart; we didn't come this far to finish second; there can't be a great army without a great general, etc. -- Flatley fans the flames of his own mythology and sets up the performance as a pre-ordained triumph. Nobody watching will be concerned about this man's low self-esteem.

Flatley has kept up the tanning salon appointments and highlights, but perhaps as a nod to getting older, he now spares us the oiled torso, stripping down only to a tank top. His splashy stage entrances are actually kind of a hoot as he shamelessly goads the audience into worship mode, beaming like Liberace while whirling around in a Siegfried and Roy jacket with diamante monogram on the back.

The show is a more digitally tricked-out version of the original, with the same clash between forces of good and evil played out against a multi-panel Jumbotron backdrop.

Flatley leads the wholesome white knights against fascistic warriors in black, the chief object of their battle apparently a Bedazzled cummerbund. A fair lassie and a brunette temptress vie for the star's affections, while a twee sprite in a harlequin outfit keeps popping up to play another pipe chorus of the infernal folkie hymn that gives the show its title.

There are This Is Spinal Tap moments with hooded Druids carrying flame torches, and press materials spin some hogwash about the story being rooted in classic Celtic folklore. But there's barely a narrative thread of any origin in the repetitive numbers, and the show has grown about as far away from traditional Irish culture as it can get.

There's way more Vegas vulgarization than Emerald Isle mystique here, with the nymphs at one point discarding their tunics for black bikinis. You'd have to search hard among the dancers to find a fresh-scrubbed, red-haired Irish Colleen in the Maureen O'Hara mold. Instead the prevailing look for the girls is brassy blonde with drag queen-strength makeup, as exemplified by the fiddlers, two Celtic Barbies in hoochie skirts and hooker boots.

Beyond the questionable taste of the whole thing, the real letdown in Marcus Viner's film is the camera's ambivalence toward the defining element of Irish dance. Cinematographer Nick Wheeler too seldom gets in close on the footwork, instead favoring big cheesy spectacle. In frequent audience shots, the Dublin crowd looks ecstatic. Maybe you had to be there.

Opens: March 17 (Supervision Media)
Cast: Michael Flatley, Tom Cunningham, Bernadette Flynn, Ciara Sexton, Kate Pomfret, Deirdre Shannon, Giada Costenaro, Valerie Gleeson
Director: Marcus Viner
Show created, produced and directed by Michael Flatley
Production: Nineteen Fifteen in association with ITN
Producers: Kit Hawkins, Vicki Betihavas
Executive producers: Michael Flatley, Stephen Marks, Steve Carsey
Director of photography: Nick Wheeler
Lighting designer: Mark Cunliffe
Editor: Tom Palliser
Music: Ronan Hardiman
Rated G; 95 minutes