‘The Fall’: Eye-popping images not enough to save film

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, May 29, 2008 3:19pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

There should always be a place (and an audience) for movies that are certifiably crazy. “The Fall” is such a movie.

I didn’t buy this film’s hifalutin’ pretensions, and its story-within-a-story isn’t strong enough to justify all the effort. But boy, is “The Fall” a wild experience.

It begins with a black-and-white, slow-motion, wordless series of images: a high bridge, a train, a river and the strains of Beethoven’s “7th Symphony.” Only later do we understand this is an accident on a movie set.

After this sequence, the film reverts to color. It’s the 1920s, and a movie stuntman (engaging Lee Pace) has been injured. Apparently he can’t walk, and apparently he is lovelorn.

While he is stuck in his hospital bed, a 5-year-old girl distracts him. She’s played by Catinca Untaru, one of the cutest kid actors since Shirley Temple. Pace and Untaru have a warm chemistry together, in contrast to the artificiality of the rest of the movie.

The stuntman indulges the kid by spinning a tale. This story, of five adventurers on a quest through exotic landscapes, will fill much of the running time of “The Fall.”

Shot with storybook grandeur (in over 20 countries, amazingly), this yarn is an all-purpose epic, far too generic and vague to actually generate much interest. Pace plays one of the adventurers, a pirate type, joined on his quest by an escaped African slave, Indian and Italian characters and Charles Darwin. Huh?

Eye-popping images tumble out of the film, from grand castles to tiny islands to elephants swimming in the open sea. These stupendous visuals come courtesy of single-named director Tarsem, who has a long career as a maker of music videos and TV commercials.

He also directed one feature, the loathsome Jennifer Lopez thriller “The Cell.” Tarsem is obviously a collector of beautiful pictures, but this movie plays like a TV ad for storytelling, where all the costumes are impeccable and all the men are buff.

“The Fall” is based on a very obscure Bulgarian movie called “Yo Ho Ho,” but you could also describe it as “The Princess Bride” for production designers. I think it doesn’t work, and it totally falls apart at the end. But I look forward to it being discovered by a passionate cult of eye-candy worshippers.

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