Hanging around since a near-mythical 2018 premiere, slow-arse spy thriller Blackbird is unequivocally un film de Michael Flatley: the ridiculously successful dancer-choreographer acting as star, writer, executive producer and director (some of it was even shot at his own mansion in County Cork). Over the years, plenty of dancers have transformed into brilliant directors (think Gene Kelly, Bob Fosse); unfortunately, none of the creativity, energy and entrepreneurship that turned Riverdance from a half-time act at the Eurovision Song Contest into a populist stage phenomenon is present and correct here. Blackbird is a cheapo James Bond knock-off without any of the scale, spectacle or smarts.
Flatley is Victor Blackley, aka Blackbird, a former member of The Chieftains, not the Irish folk band formed in Dublin in 1962 but a clandestine cabal of secret agents headed up Patrick Bergin, aptly enough known simply as ‘The Head’. Following the murder of his fiancée by terrorists in a jungle (this is drip-fed in poorly executed flashbacks), a guilt-ridden Victor leaves the spy life and starts a nightclub, The Blue Moon, in the Caribbean — like a Poundland Rick Blaine. Into his establishment comes Blake Molyneux (Eric Roberts), who belongs to a secret society known as The Crusading Revolutionaries (they wear rings, they always wear rings) who sell arms to insurgents in Africa. The MacGuffin — no word of a lie — is a secret formula that can be used for good by repairing human immune systems but, with a small tweak, can be dropped into a city’s water supply and kill millions, thus enabling Molyneux’s plan for a New World Order.
By far the best performance in the film is by Flatley's seemingly endless collection of hats.
The writing is as leaden as Flatley’s footwork was light. Funerals take place in the pouring rain. London is established with Big Ben chiming (this is also a London where red telephone boxes still work). Some of the dialogue is so tin-eared it was probably written on the yellow brick road to Oz (“I wonder what you love more: women, money or playing God”; “Bless me father for I have sinned… and I’m about to sin again!”). In the canon of performers directing themselves, it’s hard to think of a filmmaker who gives his hero (aka himself) so much reverence. We are told early on about Blackley that, “No-one can do what he does.” Flatley directs himself walking into a party like he’s a Russian billionaire (to the strains of ‘Mack The Knife’, no less) and younger women throw themselves at him despite his penchant for overly tight-fitting shirts. It’s no surprise Victor Blackley scans with Michael Flatley.
If you want to be kind, the camera is rarely static — a figure-of-eight tracking-shot during a torture scene is slick — but the direction of Blackbird is ham-fisted and inert. At some point in the future, a drinking game will certainly arise around necking whiskey every time a scene begins with Victor looking wistfully from his balcony into the distance.
By far the best performance in the film is by Flatley’s seemingly endless collection of hats, the jaunty angle of a trilby suggesting more emotion than the actor ever does. Elsewhere, a supposedly tense game of Texas hold ’em with Blackley emerges as a Casino Royale with cheese. To kickstart his final showdown with Molyneux, Blackley drops the one-liner, “Shall we dance?”, the self-aggrandisation reaching fever pitch. By this time — a mere 88 minutes — the answer is a resounding no.