“The Fall,” a whacked-out fairy tale for grown-ups, is as stunning in its beauty as it is in its lack of logic.
Indian writer-director Tarsem Singh, who just goes by the name Tarsem, knows how to create some sumptuous visuals, as he did with his similarly gorgeous but pretentious 2000 thriller “The Cell” starring Jennifer Lopez and Vincent D’Onofrio. He has quite an imagination, all right, as you would imagine from a commercial and music-video veteran. (Tarsem’s best known work is still the clip for R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion,” and that was back in 1991.) You just wonder where he’s going with it.
Too often the images, shot over several years in countries including Bali, Fiji, South Africa and Italy, seem to exist because they’re cool-looking and weird, and for no other reason.
The convoluted story, which Tarsem co-scripted with Dan Gilroy and Nico Soultanakis, follows the friendship that forms between an injured stuntman (Lee Pace) and a little girl with a broken collar bone (Romanian newcomer Catinca Untaru). Both are stuck in a hospital in 1915 Los Angeles.
Every day, Untaru’s cherubic Alexandria visits Pace’s bedridden Roy and hears pieces of an increasingly wild tale, the details of which he draws from his own life. The pretty nurse becomes a princess, the leading man who stole Roy’s girlfriend becomes the villain and little Alexandria, who lost her own father, becomes Roy’s daughter — sometimes. Again, that would require consistency.
Roy hopes that by charming the girl, he can talk her into stealing enough morphine so that he can kill himself. See, we warned you this wasn’t meant for kids.
Pace, the Golden Globe-nominated star of ABC’s “Pushing Daisies,” would seem to have the right charismatic presence for the job, but it’s sometimes tough to tell under the elaborate costumes and fantasies his character has concocted.
Tarsem takes us underwater to swim with an elephant in slow motion; to a butterfly-shaped island in the middle of an aquamarine sea; to sun-baked, dark-orange sand dunes; to a hilltop palace surrounded by buildings that are only painted cobalt blue.
Individually, these are all striking shots that’ll make your jaw drop. As part of Roy’s story, in which he plays a masked bandit among a motley posse of men trying to take out the evil Governor Odious, they feel arbitrary and often just plain silly. One of the men on his team is Charles Darwin; another is a freed slave who, in real life, is the guy who delivers ice to the hospital. The shades of “The Wizard of Oz,” with its blending of fantasy and reality, are pretty hard to avoid, as are the comparisons to “Time Bandits,” which had a similar storytelling structure.
That would make Untaru our Dorothy figure (and our Fred Savage, if you will). With her pigtails, chubby cheeks, turned-up nose and inquisitive delivery, she’s almost too cute for words. (Now 11 years old, she didn’t even know English when she was cast in the role.) But Pace’s low-key, down-home demeanor balances her out nicely.
The moments they share together chatting and teasing each other have an easy, father-daughter sweetness to them. They’re more enjoyable, and make “The Fall” more watchable, than Tarsem’s many self-satisfied flights of fancy.