“Just when they thought I was out…They pull me back in.”
Well, they can try anyway, and try is what they do in Ash Adams’ 2010 crime drama Once Fallen now available on DVD. This is the complicated story of Chance (Brian Presley), a drug pusher released after five years in prison and now wanting to turn his life around. His father, Liam, played by Ed Harris, is also in prison, for a killing he committed when Chance was a young boy, and now he has become leader of an Aryan Brotherhood gang.
Chance arrives home to discover he is the father of a young boy. The mother walks out on him, and he finds himself on the hook for his best friend’s debt to a local gangster. If that isn’t complicated enough, his best friend has mental problems; there is a crooked cop who has gay issues; and Chance falls for Pearl, a black girl who seems to wander onto the scene just so he can find a new love interest. This is a movie with a lot going on, much of it neither explained very clearly nor motivated very well, and too often it is easy to get lost in the morass.
While the cast includes some veteran actors, they aren’t always used very effectively. Often they rely on mannered quirks and tics instead of honest emotions. Peter Weller as Eddie the local gangster and trumpet-playing club owner is a hipster caricature. Amy Madigan is unconvincing as Chance’s blind beer-guzzling aunt. Sharon Gless has little to do as her wheelchair-bound lesbian neighbor.
Writer/Producer/Director Adams is a parody of the sadistic crooked cop, who also happens to be gay, just in case sadistic and crooked aren’t enough character points. Taraji P. Henson is Chance’s new love interest, but there is little in the way of motivation for her character’s actions. She appears at his apartment door showing a lot of cleavage, is nice to his son, and before you know it she and Chance are in a bubble bath together. Chad Lindberg as the best friend, Beat, uses a lot of eye-rolling and neck tics to indicate mental illness.
Presley, in the lead, does a more credible job. With the exception of a scene or two, he refrains from chewing the scenery, and he has some nice scenes with Keegan Thomas who plays the five-year-old son he has thrust upon him. Ed Harris as the tough-as-nails Aryan leader turns in his usual fine job, but this is the kind of role he can probably handle in his sleep. It doesn’t ask very much of him in the way of stretching himself.
And really, Adams’ script offers little opportunity for stretching. More often than not it simply takes stock characters and puts them in clichéd situations. The questions the film asks are whether can you escape your past, and whether you can you overcome your genes. Is Chance’s only option to return to a life of crime? Can he build something good for himself and his son? Will they live happily ever after with Pearl? These are questions that have been asked before, and unfortunately Once Fallen doesn’t have anything particularly original to say about them. Particular details of plot may be different, but too often you get the feeling that you’ve seen all this before.