One Fall Dir. Marcus Dean Fuller

[Compass Entertainment; 2011]

Styles: dramedy
Others: Soul Surfer, Fireproof, Touched by an Angel, Dear God

Eerily reminiscent of a bloated, faith-based television pilot that failed to get picked up for prime time, One Fall is the kind of movie you can’t just take on faith: you’re too in awe that its canned sentimentality made it to the big screen at all. It’s the kind of movie in which the heated conversation between two brothers finally having it out after years of rivalry is capped off by a slap-wrestling match and underscored by oompah circus music to remind us that the slapping is supposed to be funny. We need the reminding.

One Fall is the name of the town in which a handsome man named James (James Bond, actually, though the movie never makes it clear why) attempts suicide by jumping off a cliff, as illustrated by a Juno-esque animation that runs under the opening credits. Strangely, James survives his one fall, but somehow lands in prison (the movie scantly clarifies over the course of the story.) Upon being released, he wanders back to town, drinking heavily, looking haggard and rolling his eyes at the quaintness of the place. The movie, on the other hand, is lit and shot like a video promo for a Utah megachurch and couldn’t inspire a tough or haggard feeling even if it did have the courage of the darker issues its story strives for, which it doesn’t.

James (played by soap opera vet Marcus Dean Fuller, who also directed) eventually rolls into the local hospital, where his dying father (Mark LaMura) is holed up and being cared for by his physician brother (James McCaffrey), who is a prick in the broad tradition of characters played by Christopher MacDonald and James Rebhorn. Prickishness aside (or, if looked at passive-aggressively, front-and-center), the brother finds James a position as what looks like the hospital’s only janitor. This allows James to hang around dying old people long enough to discover that surviving his suicide attempt imbued him with an inexplicable power to heal. Being a janitor to his own brother, James is already feeling pretty low, so it isn’t difficult to justify charging the elderly in exchange for the magic of curing them.

James has The Touch. Still, there’s never any specific reference to Jesus in One Fall, nor to Christianity in general, though the feel of the film could undoubtedly be described as “faith-based propaganda.” In lieu of directly referencing the Christian savior, One Fall offers James’ hyperactive teenage neighbor, Tab (Seamus Mulcahy), a kid who’s obsessed with superheroes and somehow knows about James’ scheme to relieve hospital patients of their money. The kid concludes that having a healing power and a dark side makes James a real-life superhero, just one who’s wandered off the honorable path. Superheroes as Christ figures being more common than ex-convicts with drinking problems, One Fall uses the hero angle as an efficient way of explaining James’ power: it’s only a matter of time before he begins to believe that the kid might be right, at which point he’ll start dressing like a super and saving old people for free.

No one in the movie offers more than a shrug or a hi-yo! comic zinger when confronted with the by-all-rights astounding news that James can literally heal people with a mysterious power. It’s not that nobody cares, which would have been an interesting way to go with the healing idea, but that everybody has been directed to care in an unimaginably banal way. In brief exception, there is a weird little janitor-overlord (Darren Aronofsky regular Mark Margolis) who occupies the dungeons of the hospital and seems to be around every time James needs a cryptic quote to explain his powers. This is a lazy way to justify a supernatural conceit, but at least Margolis breaks up the monotony of the plot whenever he’s onscreen.

Defining One Fall’s particular brand of awfulness is like trying to explain to a Touched by an Angel fan why that show truly makes you sad for the art of the filmed image. Sincerity mixed with ineptitude mixed with a much larger budget than most first-time directors should ever be given can often create a product that is banal with a vengeance, which is surely extremely pleasing to a lot of people. But One Fall is a wannabe-sincere look at becoming a hero that seems to honestly mistake the clichés of television dramedies for hard-won emotion. It’s kind of amazing that way, like a train wreck in which no one got hurt.

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