You read that right! After spending years as a straight-to-video mainstay, C. Thomas Howell finally stepped up from just starring in these films to directing one. Of course, Howell still stars in The Big Fall as well as directing it. What better way to make sure that your star takes your direction than by casting yourself in the lead role? It makes sense. The end result is a lot better than anyone would probably expect it to be.
Howell plays Blaise Rybeck, a self-described “private dick,” who works in modern Los Angeles with his protege (Sam Seder) and his secretary (Kathy Griffin, whose role is thankfully small). Rybeck talks and dresses like a hard-boiled, 1940s P.I., right down to wearing a trench coat and a fedora while delivering his lines in a Bogart-style rasp. The decor of his office is straight from the 40s as well. Despite this, the movie takes place in modern times, with people using cell phones and bungee jumping off of bridges. That no one comments on how out-of-time Rybeck seems to be indicates that Howell knew exactly what he was doing with his directorial debut. The Big Fall is a tone perfect send-up of the neo-noirs that Howell spent most of the 90s appearing in. His direction shows far more wit than you might expect from the star of Soul Man.
Rybeck is hired by sultry Emma Roussell (Sophie Ward) to find her brother. It turns out that her brother has gotten involved with a bunch of extreme sports-obsessed bungee jumpers. (This film attempts to do for bungee jumping what Point Break did for surfing and it actually succeed because the bungee jumping scenes are pretty damn cool.) It all has to do with a criminal named Axe Roosevelt, played by the great Jeff Kober. Of course, it also turns out that there’s more to Emma than meets the eye because this is a noir and there always is.
As a director, Howell does a good job of spoofing the material while still playing it straight enough that the movie doesn’t just become one big inside joke. Jeff Kober and Titus Welliver are great as the bad guys, Sophie Ward is sexy as the femme fatale, and C. Thomas Howell keeps things moving both in front of and behind the camera. This is an unexpected straight-to-video gem.