Credit: Eric Laciste / Universal Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection
Blockbuster Beat by Matt Lynch Featured Film

The Fall Guy — David Leitch

May 3, 2024

Audiences are excited about the art of the stunt again. You’ve got Tom Cruise skydiving and crashing trains, Christopher Nolan’s Protagonist bungee-jumping over skyscrapers, Keanu Reeves vs. a hundred goons. Articles are being written about practical stunts vs. CGI. The consensus is building that there should be an Academy Award or two for stunt performers. Into this semi-new environment comes The Fall Guy, a mostly charming action comedy, part rom-com, part action thriller. Based on an early-‘80s TV series about a stuntman who moonlights as a bounty hunter, the film has gone out of its way to position itself as a “love letter” to stunts and the people who pull them off.

Ryan Gosling stars as Colt Seavers, who’s the Cliff Booth to charisma vacuum Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s megastar Tom Ryder. Colt’s career as a stuntman is seemingly cut short — as is his set romance with camera assistant Jody Moreno (Emily Blunt) — when an accident with a decelerator rig during a staged fall goes wrong, breaking his back. 18 months later, Colt is miserable, gun-shy, and out of the business, when he gets a call from Ryder’s agent Gail (Hannah Waddingham): Ryder has gone missing from the set of his new movie in Sydney, and only Colt can find him. Turns out Jody is the director of the film, forcing a reunion that neither party is entirely sure is a good idea.

When The Fall Guy is working, it’s really working. Gosling is so effortlessly charming here that he could sell a bowl of dirt to a dead cat, and his chemistry with Blunt is frankly off the charts. The romantic comedy aspect of the film gets everything right, from the bickering all the way to the reconciliation, and the two leads are having so much fun together it’s a shame that they don’t really share any of the action/thriller sections of the film until the finale — you want to see them fall back in love during the adventure, but it’s mostly the B-plot (although Blunt does get her own relatively small share of the action and unsurprisingly does very well).

The problem, then, is the action thriller part. As directed by David Leitch, a former stuntman himself who’s graduated to directing mediocre, borderline insufferable tentpoles like Hobbs & Shaw and Bullet Train, the action here is acceptable at best. Depressingly, a behind-the-scenes reel that plays over the closing credits reveals just how much of the stuntwork here is done practically and on set, and yet the final product is overcut and slathered in digital color correction that makes everything look like smeary green screen. You watch Gosling sliding on the back of a dumptruck fighting some henchman while the credits roll, but the version of that really superbly crafted stunt — complete with all the wires and safety rigs and camera cars — winds up looking like the same old crap in the final movie. Leitch has never been a good director of action; he’s got no flair for style, no sense of what angle makes the best money shot or impact, so despite all the skill and craft that’s clearly on hand here, it never raises the blood pressure. It’s wonderful to see this essential and dangerous art form celebrated so warmly, but it’s just too bad that the movie’s not better at providing a true exhibition of all that hard work.

DIRECTOR: David Leitch;  CAST: Ryan Gosling, Emily Blunt, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Stephanie Hsu, Winston Duke;  DISTRIBUTOR: Universal Pictures;  IN THEATERS: May 3;  RUNTIME: 2 hr. 6 min.