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Originally published Friday, May 30, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Movie review

"The Fall": a dazzling journey in search of a compelling story

"The Fall," an opulent tall tale directed by Tarsem Singh, is unquestionably something to see. But the script, about a suicidal stuntman (Lee Pace) and the spunky 5-year-old (Catinca Untaru) who tries to save him, isn't as impressive as the visual razzle-dazzle. Movie review by John Hartl.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 2.5 stars

"The Fall," with Catinca Untaru, Lee Pace. Directed by Tarsem Singh, from a screenplay by Singh, Dan Gilroy and Nico Soultanakis. 116 minutes. Rated R for violence. Metro, Uptown.

India-born director Tarsem Singh's opulent new movie, "The Fall," is unquestionably something to see, but is it more than visual razzle-dazzle?

Crammed with vivid images of deserts, palaces, magical reefs, underwater elephants, historical figures (Charles Darwin and Alexander the Great drop by) and famous landmarks (blink and you'll miss the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty), it comes down to earth long enough to establish a connection between two unlikely pals.

Roy Walker (Lee Pace) is a suicidal hospital patient in Los Angeles. Alexandria (Catinca Untaru) is a spunky 5-year-old who gets tricked into stealing a fatal dose of morphine for him. In no time they establish a weakness for tall tales.

The year is 1915, but with Roy sharing stories as seductively as Scheherazade, the pair can be anywhere/anytime: jumping into the ring with Roman gladiators, matching wits with an ancient conqueror, battling the evil Governor Odious or transforming themselves into the Black Bandit and his tiny daughter.

Roy's true identity: a Hollywood stuntman who is recovering from an accident on the set. He's also been unlucky in love, and he's developed a profound death wish. It's Alexandria's duty to try to pull him out of his slump.

A rehash of a 1981 Bulgarian movie, "Yo Ho Ho," the script sometimes suggests an unholy blend of Salvador Dali and Cecil B. DeMille, the Quay brothers and M.C. Escher, "The Saragossa Manuscript" and "Time Bandits" and, especially toward the end, "The NeverEnding Story." Best-known for his prizewinning R.E.M. video, "Losing My Religion," Singh embraces all these influences without quite establishing a vision.

Pace and Untaru generate an unforced chemistry that makes them pleasant company for a couple of hours, but they almost work against the movie's need to establish narrative tension. They appear to be having such a good time that Roy's self-destructive impulses never register as real or terribly compelling.

John Hartl: johnhartl@yahoo.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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