Technical Prowess Meets Meathead Charm in Action Rom-Com The Fall Guy

Movies Reviews Ryan Gosling
Technical Prowess Meets Meathead Charm in Action Rom-Com The Fall Guy

The deceptive difficulty of action movies, comedies, and their intersection is being able to do something completely stupid with total straight-faced commitment. Like so many easily dismissed parts of film production, a punchline delivered with invested emotion is just as hard to pull off as a pratfall performed with total abandon. If either misses its mark by a hair, you fall flat on your face and leave the audience hating your smug performance or hyperactive flailing. It’s all the more impressive, then, that Ryan Gosling does it all in The Fall Guy.

He plays stuntman Colt Seavers, living bruise, returning to action One Last Time in order to help his old flame Jody Moreno (Emily Blunt) on her first directorial effort, Metalstorm. That’s the simple set-up, designed to showcase the jock rock of filmmaking: A stunt spectacular combining the technical prowess and meathead charm of the dirtbag daredevils behind every awesome car crash and killer fight scene. And, thanks to Gosling—playing his role like his schmuck detective from The Nice Guys accidentally found himself in a Mission: Impossible—the film breezily flits between a savvy behind-the-scenes pastiche and a committed action rom-com.

Ok, The Fall Guy owes its success to far more people than its leading man. That’s kind of its point. Directed by longtime stuntman David Leitch (with this film, distancing himself from solely being the less impressive half of the John Wick team) and written by Drew Pearce (one of Leitch’s Hobbs & Shaw scribes), The Fall Guy works best as an anti-blockbuster. It wants to blow shit up and wow us with its ballsy choreography, but it also wants to take the shine off these feats of movie magic. These moments aren’t easy, and they aren’t entirely cobbled together from pixels by an offshore FX team (at least, not yet). They’re the result of human labor, operating at the idiot intersection of math, science and Jackass. The amount of explosives needs to be just right, the timing has to be perfect, the driver needs to have a laissez faire attitude towards mortality. They just don’t let the controlled chaos bleed out into the marketing.

But even if The Fall Guy wasn’t constantly taking us through the ins and outs of shooting massive action moments—like car crashes, flaming death scenes, and ten-story falls—with a production team working in well-oiled tandem, we’d get the picture based on the plot itself. Tom Ryder (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), the star of Moreno’s orange-filtered Dune parody (complete with a howling woman on the soundtrack), is a terrible diva and goes AWOL from set. His old stunt double Seavers has gotta track him down.

The ensuing silliness works in part because Gosling gets to go full bumbling PI mode, and in part because it extrapolates The Fall Guy’s more grounded on-set problems to hilarious heights. The eventual reason behind Ryder’s absence is ridiculous, as are all the ways in which Seavers has to punch, jump, drive and shoot his way to the other end of this rabbit hole. But, in The Fall Guy’s world, it’s just one more stupid hurdle on a list of a thousand stupid hurdles between day one’s call time and getting Metalstorm in the can.

It’s also a long-winded grand gesture between Seavers and Moreno, whose romance is lifted beyond its bare-bones writing by its convincing performers (Blunt does some great deadpan) and a couple endearing visual gimmicks from Leitch. Split-screen always works, as does a grown man crying to Taylor Swift. And The Fall Guy is never afraid to show its full hand; whether it’s lampshading its combat or its love story, it does so with a bullheaded confidence that’s as bluntly winning as its needledrops. (“I Was Made for Lovin’ You,” The Darkness and the Miami Vice theme? My sleeves just fell off.) But the real romance here, one that’s a little bitter with age but still affectionate, is between The Fall Guy and film production.

The Fall Guy is a great modern example of a making-a-movie movie. And not just because it clearly conveys the onslaught of management headaches, arsenal of walkie-talkies and constant quest for coffee. It goes beyond sitcom-level parody with plenty of up-to-date details, thankfully trusting us to keep up. There’s the domineering producer (Hannah Waddingham), concerned only with her brand-name star and the mandates of the studio. There’s the encroaching AI, utilizing those actor scans that had us all up in arms last year (not to mention finally making deepfakes into a plot point). And there’s the tantalizing siren song of the VFX department, ready to take care of whatever setpiece you need, cheaply and simply. The Fall Guy doesn’t have any real beef with digital FX, but when the film cleverly transitions from the Metalstorm mock-ups to what it actually looks like on set, Leitch makes it easy for us to focus on the tangible elements—the props, the extras, the costumes, the clipboards, the bearded guys on the dolly rig—that make the painted-in starships believable.

Throughout, the long-suffering stunties get their due. The end credits show us how The Fall Guy’s stunts work, but we already know; it’s extra impressive that, even after showing wire work, breakable prop bottles and pre-impact mouthguards, The Fall Guy still wows us with its physical feats. Every time the movie hangs a lampshade, it goes flying out the window as the whole lamp is smashed into a henchman. This extends to Seavers, who has been battered and burned so often that his ability to shake it off and keep going has become dangerously tied to his sense of self-worth. Gosling balances the solid gags, endless action and rom-com character growth perfectly; Blunt warms to his guileless apologies without sacrificing her one big shot.

Beyond them, though, there isn’t much else to mention. Taylor-Johnson is a one-joke character, as is Seavers’ stunt coordinator Dan (Winston Duke), who’s simply a big ol’ movie-quoting dork. But at least we get to see Duke clothesline a goon with his tank-gun arms. These character personify The Fall Guy’s biggest problem: For all its thematic talk of moviemaking being a communal effort, there’s not much to it outside of its explosions and leads—and yet it still invests just enough time on the periphery to feel like a waste. Stephanie Hsu is suppressed in her single scene, the self-deprecating plot becomes exhausting and the movie just can’t keep its pace up for two full hours. There’s a brisk movie hiding in here past the bloat, which ironically feels tacked on in order to make this self-effacing dunk on blockbusters…into more of a blockbuster. But damn it, when it’s working, you just want to let ‘em ride.

Funnier and more effective than most movies built upon a foundation of car chases and fistfights, The Fall Guy is smart enough to showcase its dumb action in a new and exciting way. Its affection is infectious, whether that’s for the art of filmmaking, the haywire pleasures of being on set, the adrenaline rush of a well-made gamble, or for finding someone special to share your simple corner of the world. The ambitious meta-film overcomes the baggage of trying to be both the movie of the summer and the movie that comments on those kinds of movies, hitting a cinematic sweet spot and singing the praises of stunt performers everywhere.

Director: David Leitch
Writer: Drew Pearce
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emily Blunt, Winston Duke, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Hannah Waddingham, Stephanie Hsu
Release Date: May 3, 2024

Jacob Oller is Movies Editor at Paste Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @jacoboller.

For all the latest movie news, reviews, lists and features, follow @PasteMovies.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin