Two and a half stars (R)
Tarsem — his last name is Singh, but he prefers the one-word name thing — likes to dazzle viewers with amazing scenery and striking imagery. Once he grabs your attention, he doesn’t know what to do with it, but he sure can come up with unique eye candy. Tarsem is best known for making the surreal video for R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion.” He also made The Cell, a freaky thriller starring Jennifer Lopez and Vincent D’Onofrio about a psychotherapist who enters the mind of an unconscious serial killer in the hope of rescuing his latest victim. What a great looking lousy movie that one was.
Mostly, Tarsem does commercials — big, glossy commercials shot all over the world with incredible locations, impressive sets and elaborate costumes. He made most of The Fall while shooting commercials in over 18 countries, enabling him to go to far more exotic locales than most film productions could afford. According to the Internet Movie Database, scenes were filmed in multiple parts of India, the Andaman Islands in the South Pacific, Argentina (please, ladies and gentlemen, hold your applause until all of the countries have been listed), Bali, Brazil, Cambodia, South Africa, Chile, China, Egypt, Fiji, Nepal, Italy, Maldives, Namibia, Prague in the Czech Republic, Romania and Turkey. Oh, and the USA.
Pretty impressive, eh? Most of the locations include distinctive sets and actors decked out in costumes that look like they came straight from Cirque du Soleil. So why am I listing countries and flinging around so many adjectives? To stress that the most appealing thing about The Fall is its visuals. The rest of the movie is a mess.
The story (based on a 1981 Bulgarian film called Yo Ho Ho) goes like this: In Los Angeles sometime around 1915, a stunt man named Roy, played by Lee Pace from Pushing Daisies, breaks his back and ends up in the hospital. Recuperating in the children’s ward is young Alexandria (Catinca Untaru), a little girl with a broken arm who loves nosing around.
Alexandria and Roy become friends, or at least it looks that way, and he begins telling her a sprawling tale about a masked swashbuckler called The Black Bandit (Pace), an escaped African slave (Marcus Wesley), an Indian mystic (Julian Bleach), an Italian anarchist (Robin Smith) and, upping the weird factor a notch further, Charles Darwin (Leo Bill), complete with a monkey.
Roy’s tall tale allows Tarsem to dress his players in all sorts of outlandish costumes and have them bound about his way-cool locations. Good for him, but here’s the problem: The images grab you, but the story doesn’t. It reminded me of the kind of herky-jerky narrative a child cooks up while playing with action figures. We are told about the great emotions being experienced by the characters, but we don’t share them, we just watch the bizarre pictures. The Roy/Alexandria story is nearly as unsatisfying. We learn (SPOILER ALERT, I guess) that he’s really trying to get the kid to snag enough drugs for him to commit suicide (END SPOILER ALERT). Not only is the plot line depressing, it makes little sense and, like the fantasy story, it’s terribly disjointed.
So what are we left with? Lee Pace and Catinca Untaru, two appealing actors, in a muddled film packed with stunning images. I’m glad I saw The Fall, but I can only recommend it as a visually opulent train wreck.