The Movie Waffler New to VOD - BLACKBIRD | The Movie Waffler


A secret agent turned hotelier is drawn back into his old life with the arrival of a sinister guest.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Michael Flatley

Starring: Michael Flatley, Eric Roberts, Nicole Evans, Ian Beattie, Patrick Bergin

blackbird poster

Blackbird, dance superstar Michael Flatley's cinematic debut as writer/director/star, received its first screening back in 2018 at the Raindance Film Festival in London. At least that's what we're led to believe, as nobody on Earth has actually confessed to being present at that screening. In the intervening years we began to worry that Flatley's film had gone the way of Jerry Lewis's infamous Holocaust comedy The Day the Clown Cried, and would never see the light of a projector. But here we are, with the movie receiving a surprising cinema release in the UK and Ireland.

Since its announcement, Flatley's debut has been dismissed as a "vanity project." How cruel. Such a label doesn't necessitate a bad film though. After all, wasn't Citizen Kane a vanity project for Orson Welles? Come to think of it, Blackbird and Citizen Kane have much in common. They're both made by a first-time director who had already established himself as a superstar in another medium. They both feature egomaniacal villains. They both tell their stories at 24 frames per second. They both…okay, okay Doctor Strawman, we get it.

blackbird review

Any fears that Blackbird may not be a vanity project are dismissed around the 20 minute mark when a supermodel young enough to be Flatley's grandkid comments on how handsome he is. Said supermodel later enters his hotel room and strips naked, with Flatley reacting by covering her up and ushering her into the corridor. "I don’t understand," she says. Neither do we love, neither do we.

Flatley's former secret agent Victor Blackley, aka The Blackbird, can't bring himself to be with a woman since his fiancée was brutally slain by nameless baddies 10 years earlier, a memory no amount of Viagra can erase. The movie opens with a flashback to the funeral, where somehow all the characters look slightly older than when we meet them again a decade later. I'm not sure why Victor's bride-to-be is buried in the grounds of a lavish Irish country hotel, other than the fact that Flatley happens to own the place.

I suspect Flatley wouldn't fare well as the subject of Empire magazine's "How much is a pint of milk?" feature, as he seems to be under the illusion that every profession pays as well as being the Lord of the Dance. When Blackley retires from the British secret service (like Murder She Wrote's Michael Hagarty, Blackley is an improbably Irish MI6 agent) he uses his retirement money to open a hotel/casino/nightclub in the Bahamas, as any retired civil service worker would. His former team of crack operatives – known as The Chieftains, which is also the name of the Irish folk group Flatley got his first big break with – are now employed as his hotel staff. With little concession to the temperature of the current climate, Blackley makes the female member his secretary, the black guy his manservant and the Irish bloke his drinking buddy.

blackbird review

"Isn't life great?" Blackley asks as he surveys his domain, filled with surgically enhanced twenty-something women, as though the extras were cast while on a visit to the Playboy mansion. Well, Blackley's life is about to get a lot more complicated with the arrival of Blake Molynieux (Eric Roberts), a member of a secret society of war criminals (so secret they wear special rings to identify themselves as members of a secret society of war criminals) accompanied by his trophy girlfriend Vivian (Nicole Evans). Turns out Blackley and Vivian were once lovers in the days before his fiancée got fridged, and they begin to rekindle their romance. When Blackley's staff uncover the truth behind Molynieux's visit – he's selling a macguffin that will destroy the world, or something – they tell Blackley he needs to take action. But Blackley has left that life behind him and just wants to run his hotel and turn down offers of sex from supermodels young enough to be his granddaughter while romancing women young enough to be his daughter. Well Blackley, surely you've seen enough action movies to know that you'll be pulled back into your old life whether you like it or not?

What's surprising - and let's be honest, somewhat disappointing for us fans of camp – about Blackbird is how technically competent the production is on most levels. Cinematographer Luke Palmer frames some genuinely nice shots and there's a "oner" that's surprisingly well staged. Were it not for the presence of Flatley it could be mistaken for any mid-budget spy thriller. Anyone expecting the delightfully inept visuals of a Tommy Wiseau or Neil Breen production will be severely let down.

But of course, Flatley is indeed the star, something no amount of pretty camerawork can hide. He is, to be blunt, a terrible actor, and completely miscast as a former tough guy, despite Flatley's real-life past as a boxer. He delivers his lines with all the enthusiasm of a hungover postman on New Year's Day and insists on giving himself close-ups that are so in your face you can almost smell his cologne. One shot opens with Flatley standing awkwardly as though waiting for the director to yell "Action!" before remembering that he is the director. Resembling the new owner of your local upmarket wine shop, he insists on sporting a variety of hats and even has a secretary on hand to replace one hat with another when the occasion calls for it. When he utters the immortal line "Shall we dance?", Blackbird's place in bad movie history is assured.

blackbird review

The famously over-the-top Roberts is the boisterous yang to Flatley's sleepwalking yin, and it's a real treat to see him on a cinema screen after decades of being stuck in straight to VOD jail. A poker game between Flatley and Roberts is one of the movie's highlights, with the former hilariously commenting on how intelligent and how nice smelling the latter is. It's the Heat diner scene of cinematic shite.

Things are left open for a possible sequel, and I for one will be there on opening day. Blackbird should serve as inspiration for all budding filmmakers to chase their dreams. If multi-millionaire global superstar Michael Flatley can do it, why can't you?

 is on UK/ROI VOD now.

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