Charm Offensive from Stars Gosling and Blunt Elevates The Fall Guy

David Leitch's The Fall Guy is about one thing: two likable stars triumphing over uneven material. It's also fun.

7 mins read

As movie-movie in-jokes go, David Leitch’s divertingly bombastic The Fall Guy has as much genuine reverence for its subject as gentle cynicism for its industry. That it (ever so) works is a testament to the aggressive charm offensive of star Ryan Gosling, driving a sometimes fun, sometimes labored movie about a Hollywood stunt man expert at free falls but less so at falling in love. The same could be said about the film, which former stunt man and Bullet Train director Leitch crafts as a “love letter” (thought not a particularly poetic one) to the unsung achievements of its celebrity stand-ins, putting their lives on the line for their famous counterparts and audience. 

But when it departs from such on set hijinks for a wanly written, man-wrongly-accused mystery, it doesn’t quite break its fall. Compensating are two likable stars mooning at each other both comically and sincerely, Gosling and co-star Emily Blunt well-matched enough to maneuver a “look over here” shell game defense during their movie’s obligatory convolutions. One wishes Drew Pearce’s screenplay had trusted their dynamic more than its half baked intrigue. 

The breezy opening sequence finds stunt man Colt Seaver (Gosling), repping Cruise-level movie star Tom Ryder (Aaron-Taylor Johnson) while not so secretly romancing assistant director Jody Moreno (Blunt) on the set of a big budget Hollywood action thriller. After his apex stunt—a free fall from atop a glass atrium—goes spectacularly wrong, Colt ghosts his springboards and high wires (and relationship with Jody) to park cars at a trendy L.A. burrito joint. 

A call from friend and super producer Gail Meyer—played by a shark-like Hannah Waddingham, lashing into every line while determinedly sipping Diet Coke—convinces Colt to head down under to Sydney, where Jody, having graduated to first-time director, is shooting her new film, Metalstorm—a perfectly terrible mega-budget sci-fi-action-love story-drama replete with rubber aliens and huge oceanside explosions, and one in dire need of the industry’s best stuntman. 

Roiling with unresolved love (Gosling deploys an entertaining blend of wink-wink melancholy  and heart) Colt’s surprise return irks spurned Jody, who wants him off her set—except that she doesn’t really, the pair immediately rekindling their former flame, literally, in a broad sequence where the director sets her stunt man ablaze and for superfluous multiple takes. This is funny stuff, and a subsequent lovelorn pick-up truck cab clinch cements the stars’ chemistry. 

So far, pretty good. Yet Pearce and Leitch don’t trust their leads’ chemistry enough, the screenplay manufacturing a less than intriguing mystery—star Tom has gone missing, and Gail demands Colt find out why and by whom, leading to the discovery of a body, a comically strained drug trip, deep fake face and body switching, the predictable monologuing bad guys and a series of elaborate chases that rule the picture. Now, a couple of those chases are pretty terrific, including a frenetic speeding truck sequence during which Oscar-nominee Stephanie Hsu shows up, and a well-mounted finale involving The Big Stunt and a careening helicopter showdown.

Coming off his Barbie “Kenergy”success—another role where he injected meta-sized social and physical comedy with dexterity—Gosling lends The Fall Guy his appealing good nature, humor and looks. A light touch comedian, he never takes himself too seriously. Blunt, on the other hand, is given little more to do than bullhorn command her kitsch extravaganza, the screenplay requiring her to alternately be buttoned-down demanding on set and love-lorn emotional puddle each time Gosling is in her sights. Her Jody too narrowly written to accommodate its star’s trademark intelligence, but Blunt follows Gosling’s lead appealingly enough in the longstanding romantic comedy tradition of push-push-push-pull, both stars keeping Leitch’s big, loud enterprise on track. 

A major irony in The Fall Guy is that despite his character’s stand-in status, Gosling displays exponentially more charisma than his “movie star” counterpart, played in broad sneers by Taylor-Johnson, begging the question of why Colt isn’t the rare leading man movie star who just so happens to do his own stunts; a perfect one-two combo.

The ensemble is solid enough, Winston Duke showing up as an amiable set stunt coordinator and Teresa Palmer in the throwaway role of a ninja-esque co-star. But it’s a highly motivated Waddingham who has most fun, pushing her corrupt producer to the hilt, a studio operator as skilled at subterfuge as staking out hits. A shade shy of camp and decked out in a brunette wig and glasses, it’s a zinger of a turn that knows exactly what kind of movie it’s in. 

That movie, which satirizes the creation of a ludicrously conceived, throwaway spectacle, comes close to its object of ridicule more than once. But in excess it finds charms—Gosling affixed to a runaway garbage truck tearing up metropolitan Sydney, Blunt’s straight-faced, full song karaoke rendition of Phil Collins’ Against All Odds, a million whichaway permutations of Kiss’ I Was Made for Loving You and no shortage of massive, pyrotechnic explosions or next-level absurd stunts. 

The Fall Guy, both over and underwritten, is more than a little entertaining and occasionally tedious. Leitch wants you to have fun, and by the time its credits roll with set B-roll of its invisible daredevils, you have.

3 stars

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