Michael Flatley’s so vain, he probably thinks this Blackbird (2022) review is about him.
Full disclosure: I saw Michael Flatley’s BLACKBIRD at a private screening at my local Showcase Cinema. Not, you understand, a private screening by invitation or choice but more by audience judgement. I was the only person who’d bought a ticket. Perhaps the ominous thunderstorm which broke as I arrived in the cinema car park was a last-ditch attempt by the cosmic forces which bind the universe to dissuade me from seeing the film. As foreshadowing goes, it’s still more subtle than the actual blackbird we see moments into the movie. But rather than thematic commentary or plot, it foreshadows the in-your-face ineptitude we’ll be treated to for the rest of the interminable length of this most vapid of vanity projects.
Following a personal tragedy, a troubled secret agent codenamed Blackbird (Flatley) suddenly retires from “The Agency” and opens a resort hotel in Barbados to escape the dark shadows of his past. But when a former paramour arrives in the company of villainous arms dealer Blake (Eric Roberts), it seems Victor Blackley’s past just won’t stay in the shadows.
Flatley may be a peerless dancer but he’s certainly no actor and, on the strength of BLACKBIRD, no screenwriter or director either. There isn’t a single line of dialogue that Flatley cant stomp into lifeless submission while, as a suave action hero lothario, he manages to summon up the sex appeal of Len Goodman after one too many at the STRICTLY COME DANCING Christmas Party (although somebody clearly once told him he looks good in a hat). The pinnacle of his performance is reached during a scene where Victor sits in a church looking constipated rather than contrite as the priest asks if he’s ready to confess his sins and, after a while, you can’t help but grow to admire Flatley’s extraordinarily disciplined commitment to not allowing a shred of expression to disturb his face no matter the emotional temperature of the scene. It does make the villain’s decision to take on the emotionally stunted hero in a clumsily expositional poker game which alchemically transfigures any tension into titters something of a baffling miscalculation.
The script is dripping with cliché and packed with atrocious dialogue and yet boasts an astonishing lack of exposition so much of the character development is left to the audience to piece together through supposition and assumption, a deductive exercise that does, admittedly, distract from the turgid on-screen happenings and while away the time until the end credits. Even the frequent vague references to ”The Agency” don’t explain for nearly half the movie what Victor Blackley’s occupation was. Travel? Estate? Temp? It certainly wasn’t a Talent Agency, that’s for sure. Flatley’s apparently legendary secret agent seems singularly unable to live up to the relentless hype the script and other characters throw his way that it becomes an almost surrealist exercise in abstract absurdity. I haven’t experienced a movie so obviously fluffing it’s lead character’s ego since FAST & FURIOUS 9.
As a director, Flatley is careful to ensure none of the professional, experienced thespians deliver a performance that would threaten to overshadow his own and it’s reasonable to assume that most of the cast probably reconciled themselves to the professional humiliation in return for a Bajan vacation, albeit one that’s photographed with the cinematographical élan of a feature-length BERGERAC special. It’s more curious, though, that a professional dancer would have such a poor sentry of rhythm when it comes to storytelling, yet BLACKBIRD struggles with pacing and plot in almost equal measure. For a purported action movie, it’s conspicuously short on action in its first half (although there is a lot – a lot – of shoulder clasping) and when it does finally come, the film’s first and only fight scene is appropriately laughable in its brevity and implausibility as the ageing Blackbird demolishes the villain’s muscle mountain henchman without raising a sweat or even a Moore-ian eyebrow. When the final showdown does finally, mercifully come it’s a disappointingly talky showdown in a boat yard that culminates in a firefight that makes POLICE SQUAD look like SCARFACE.
While there are shades of DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER in the idea of a secret agent returning from tragedy to confront his past, this boneheaded James Bond rip-off is more risible than Risico. You have to wonder – after a suitably dignified period of time has elapsed – whether Michael Flatley will be tempted to retcon this into an ironic satirical cult favourite a la THE ROOM but even Tommy Wiseau would throw shade at BLACKBIRD and the truth is it’ll always be a film to be laughed at, not with.