The Fall Guy 2024
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125 min.
Release Date
The Fall Guy poster

Stuntman-turned-director David Leitch helms The Fall Guy, a crowd-pleasing ode to stunt performers wrapped in blockbuster packaging. Presumably, the movie’s ulterior motive—hinted at by its stars Emily Blunt and Ryan Gosling appearing at this year’s Oscar ceremony in support of stunt professionals—is to create awareness about the profession and convince the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences to develop a category for Best Stunt. But if that extratextual motivation exists, it’s in the background of this fast-paced chunk of entertainment. Leitch and screenwriter Drew Pearce deliver a diverting movie with charming leads who exude onscreen chemistry, but also one that doesn’t have much going on narratively and disappears from the mind minutes after it’s over—a morsel that dissolves on the tongue as soon as it makes contact. Armed with an appealingly low-stakes conflict, the movie’s breeziness makes the 125-minute runtime fly by, offering a pleasant alternative to the gravitas-laden extravaganzas and elaborate cinematic universes of recent years. But the lightness of everything onscreen also robs the viewer of much investment, making the experience effortless yet forgettable. 

Based on the ABC television series (1981-1986) starring Lee Majors, The Fall Guy doesn’t resemble the show’s stuntman-by-day, bounty-hunter-by-night premise. Instead, it’s an actionized romantic comedy that unfolds behind the scenes of a major Hollywood production. Ryan Gosling plays Colt Seavers, a veteran stuntman who brags that he’s been “paid to do the cool stuff” in movies and TV since his work on the show Miami Vice. (Note: Gosling’s age, 43, doesn’t quite work for the role by at least a decade since the Miami Vice series ended in 1990 when Gosling was 10. Gosling would have also been too young to appear in Universal Studios’ “Miami Vice Action Spectacular” live show, which ended in 1995 and was replaced by the “WaterWorld” stunt show. Or maybe The Fall Guy takes place 10-15 years ago.) In any case, the movie opens with some punchy, metatextual narration like a Shane Black screenplay. Think Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005), with a dash of tinsel town conspiracy reminiscent of The Nice Guys (2016), both clear benchmarks for Pearce’s script and its Hollywood insider perspective. To be sure, Gosling repeats his capable wiseacre persona from the latter film, which is charming and likable but perhaps a little too familiar for those who wanted a sequel to The Nice Guys and never got it.

Colt, the go-to stunt person for A-list actor Tom Ryder (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), maintains a flirty rapport with a camera operator, Jody Moreno (Blunt). But after an on-set accident leaves him seriously injured for the first time, Colt disappears and ghosts Jody out of wounded pride. After 18 months, it takes snakish producer Gail (Hannah Waddingham) to convince Colt to end his pity party and help Jody with the stunts on her first solo directing gig, a megabudget sci-fi extravaganza called MetalStorm, which is shooting in Australia. Broken-hearted but still in love, Jody hesitates to trust Colt again, and she puts him through the wringer before finally giving him another chance at romance. At the same time, Gail enlists Colt to track down Ryder, who has gone missing after a recent encounter with some “shady people.” The search gives way to an entangled series of fights, chases, and twists, some involving a dead body on ice, a dog with some very specific attack training, and a frame job—all requiring Colt to put his physical skills to use. 

The Fall Guy 2024Most of the details driving the narrative don’t amount to much. The pleasure of The Fall Guy involves watching Gosling deliver his character’s amusingly vulnerable masculinity and stumbling dialogue while carrying out many of his own stunts. On the purely comical side, the antics include a teary scene set to “All Too Well” by Taylor Swift and Gosling’s lispy voice while wearing a protective mouthguard. Elsewhere, Taylor-Johnson has a thoroughly unappealing role (though, I found it curious how, during a scene for the MetalStorm shoot, he channels Matthew McConaughey in 2002’s Reign of Fire). Winston Duke plays a stunt coordinator and Colt’s sidekick of sorts, his only characteristic being his affinity for inspirational movie quotes. Stephanie Hsu’s role as Ryder’s assistant feels weirdly small, given that she’s an Oscar nominee. Of course, Blunt brings her graceful appeal to her character, who desperately needs the production of MetalStorm to go well. Yet, between the goofy alien suits and almost parodic script, nothing about Jody’s space-cowboys-versus-aliens setup looks convincing. And because the movie-within-the-movie looks phony, the movie proper is robbed of some legitimacy. 

Still, The Fall Guy boasts several impressive-looking action sequences, so there’s never a dull moment, even though the story offers few surprises. One section in a nightclub finds Colt drugged, and while hallucinating, he fights off goons in a cartoonish visual style reminiscent of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010), with video game explosions and sounds. A subsequent boat chase appears to be modeled after those in Miami Vice. A hot pursuit in downtown Sydney has Colt fighting bad guys in the back of a moving truck, which looks similar to an action set piece in the Gosling-starrer The Gray Man (2022). The stunts sometimes appear genuine; at other times, they seem aided by a generous application of CGI, particularly in the third act. It feels somewhat disappointing when Colt and Jody voice their disdain for computerized visual effects, yet Leitch doesn’t hold himself to a similar standard. Then again, Pearce’s script tries to make up for The Fall Guy’s issues with self-awareness, calling out its own “third-act problem.” (Note to screenwriters: Self-awareness doesn’t always make up for the fact that you didn’t write it better.) Indeed, like most Hollywood blockbusters these days, this one doesn’t know when to quit. After a wowing car jump that beats any other moment in the movie, the story keeps going, leaving the subsequent helicopter action to feel underwhelming by comparison.

What’s unfortunate about Leitch’s production is that he doesn’t teach his audience much about the work of stunt performers in Hollywood. Take one sequence played for laughs, when the MetalStorm production repeatedly sets Colt on fire and throws him against a large rock. We never see the crew apply the requisite fire-resistant gel for such a stunt. Then, in the behind-the-scenes footage shown during the end credits, we see the actual stunt performer getting set ablaze, but we can see him slathered in flame retardant. Similarly, there’s little discussion about the planning and coordination that goes into filming a dangerous stunt. Jody and everyone involved in MetalStorm improvise pyrotechnics, car chases, and massive battle sequences, whereas actual stunts are often choreographed and practiced before the cameras start rolling. Granted, The Fall Guy isn’t a documentary about stunt performers, but some attempt to accurately portray how stunts are achieved may have made a better case for the work and the award-worthiness of coordinating these dangerous, dazzling feats. 

Admittedly, most of the crowd in my press screening reacted positively to The Fall Guy, with much cheering and clapping throughout. The movie worked for them from start to finish, enough for me to wonder what I was missing. But the characters, story, and filmmaking felt slight and unmoving to me, in a manner recalling other Leitch-directed efforts, such as Atomic Blonde (2017) and Bullet Train (2022). Leitch once again works alongside cinematographer Jonathan Sela and editor Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir, but understandably, their collaborative efforts demonstrate more interest in conveying elaborate stunts than matching them with storytelling and visual artistry at the same level. As a result, the production lacked that je ne sais quoi that brings a movie like this to vivid life. Its attractive cast appears to be having fun and, in many ways, its love story works better than its action. Everything onscreen looks expensive, and it’s competently assembled. But it doesn’t soar, aside from one wowing car jump. 

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