The Fall Guy (PG-13) ★★★

Review Date: May 2nd, 2024

The Fall Guy represents what a true "summer movie" should be: a light, fast-paced spectacle with likeable characters and a balance between action/eye candy and narrative elements. No one is going to call Drew Pearce's screenplay a masterpiece of wit or intelligence but it's good enough to generate some laughs and keep the viewer engaged for the slightly overlong 126-minute running time. And, although the selling point is the action, one could argue that this is as much a rom-com masquerading as a comedy-thriller as it is a comedy-thriller with a romantic subplot.

Technically, this is a re-imagining of the 1980s TV series The Fall Guy, a show that ran for five seasons on ABC. Although there are some tie-ins and call-backs, the movie is essentially its own entity. Out of respect to the earlier version, the filmmakers brought back stars Lee Majors (in a speaking role) and Heather Thomas (no lines) for cameos during a mid-credits sequence. The theme song, "Unknown Stuntman" (originally sung by Majors), is covered by Blake Shelton.

The Fall Guy stars Ryan Gosling as Colt Seavers, a top stuntman in the industry and the regular stand-in for Hollywood A-lister Tom Ryder (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Colt is involved in a not-so-under-the-radar relationship with camerawoman Jody Moreno (Emily Blunt). Things go downhill when Colt is severely injured in a stunt-gone-bad. During his convalescence, he breaks up with Jody, despite her attempts to help him through the trauma, and becomes a recluse, opting to work for a valet service rather than return to moviemaking.

18 months later, he is lured back to the set by producer Gail Meyer (Hannah Waddingham), who implies that Jody, the debut director of the would-be science fiction blockbuster Metalstorm, has requested his services. Hoping to rekindle their romance, Colt agrees…only to discover that not only didn't Jody ask for him, she wants anyone but him. Eventually, he is allowed to stay but there's more afoot than Colt repenting for the real and imaginary sins. Tom has disappeared, there's a body in a bathtub, and Colt finds himself on the hunt for the miscreants behind these nefarious doings.

Director David Leitch, the stuntman-turned-director whose previous efforts behind the camera include John Wick, Atomic Blonde, and Deadpool 2, has stated that The Fall Guy is a love letter to stuntmen. Consequently, the movie's action set pieces are more reliant on practical special effects than CGI (although I assume the latter was used to some degree, especially in scenes when we see outtakes of Metalstorm). This results in an impressively visceral experience that lacks the slickness sometimes associated with computer effects. The end credits allow viewers a peek behind the curtain to get a clearer picture of the stunt work.

Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt evince enough chemistry to make their pairing work. Their romance is of an old-fashioned variety that includes a lot of teasing and verbal sparring with a kiss representing the pinnacle of their physicality. This being a family-friendly movie, actual sex is a bridge too far. Still, the movie relies more on the banter and interaction between these two characters, who are clearly besotted with one another, than what one normally expects from an action film. Aaron Taylor-Johnson gives an amusingly satirical performance as a full-of-himself movie star. Winston Duke has a supporting role as Dan Tucker, who becomes Colt's sidekick, and Ben Knight plays the requisite invincible bad guy.

The Fall Guy is replete with pop culture references, most from the '80s and '90s. A Blunt-sung karaoke version of the Grammy-winning "Against All Odds" is highlighted as are some popular filmmaking techniques from the '80s (especially split-screens). Jody's favorite films include Notting Hill and Love, Actually, although Colt confuses the former with Pretty Woman. Leitch has fun with meta references, allowing elements of the film-within-a-film to reflect events from the movie's "reality." (There's even a third level to this when it comes to the stunt work since Ryan Gosling, despite playing a stuntman, has his own stuntman.)

There are things to nitpick about The Fall Guy. It's perhaps 10-15 minutes too long. Aspects of the climax are underwhelming. The movie lacks a solid villain. And Blunt is underused. None of these minor criticisms derail what represents the first splashy ride of the summer of 2024's multiplex amusement park. The Fall Guy delivers where it matters - it's a fun, uplifting excursion into big-screen escapism.

© 2024 James Berardinelli