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The Fall Guy

Directed by David Leitch
Produced by Ryan Gosling, Guymon Casady, David Leitch, and Kelly McCormick
Screenplay by Drew Pearce Based on the TV series created by Glen A. Larson
With: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ryan Gosling, Emily Blunt, Hannah Waddingham, Teresa Palmer, Stephanie Hsu, Winston Duke, Zara Michales, Madeleine Jones, David Collins, Ben Knight, Adam Dunn, Matuse, and Lee Majors
Cinematography: Jonathan Sela
Editing: Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir
Music: Dominic Lewis
Runtime: 126 min
Release Date: 03 May 2024
Aspect Ratio: 2.39 : 1
Color: Color

Former stuntman turned action movie director David Leitch (John Wick, Atomic Blonde, Bullet Train) would seem an ideal choice to helm the latest "Let's spend $125M to make another big dumb loud remake of an old TV show" picture, but even by the standards of that type of movie, The Fall Guy is piss poor, and a downright unpleasant sit. Ryan Gosling stars as Colt Seavers, an aging stuntman who left the business after an injury. Emily Blunt plays Jody Moreno, Colt's former assistant camera operator ex-girlfriend, who is now at the helm of her directorial debut—a sci-fi love story Dune knockoff full of stunts. When evil mustache-twirling lady producer Hannah Waddingham lures Colt back into action, much to Jody's surprise, the two former lovers get a chance to rekindle their spark while making Jody's patently awful dream project.

Yes, Gosling and Blunt are two of our great stars, and it would be fun to see them in this kind of movie if their scenes together weren't so insulting. There's no difference between their so-contrived-it's-cute banter and that of Sydney Sweeney and Glen Powell in the prior year's intentionally artificial romcom Anyone But You—which was a big hit just like this film probably will be because studios are now run by tech companies that have exact porn metrics that enable them to calculate exactly how much of the movie-going public likes to be shit on.

Since this story is set in the film world, the opportunities for meta jokes and references to other, vastly superior movies are endless. Screenwriter Drew Pearce (Iron Man Three, Hotel Artemis, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw) takes every opportunity to indulge in this type of tired self-referential comedy. Part of the fun of setting a story in the world of filmmaking should be showing how films are actually made, but it's foolish to think a movie that clearly has so little respect for the craft of filmmaking would care at all about how it depicts the craft of filmmaking. The climax of The Fall Guy actually features a scene where the star of the movie-within-the-movie is supposed to believe he's filming a greenscreen close-up driving shot where the greenscreen is behind the camera, not behind the actor!!!! Hey, this movie star is so arrogant and drugged up that this is credible, right? The arrogant prick action star, who claims to do his own stunts but is actually just a blustering poser who is also a murderer, is feebly portrayed by Aaron Taylor-Johnson in a role that could only work if played by someone we'd take a bit more seriously (are they really considering this guy for the new 007?)

The Fall Guy is one of those blockbusters intentionally designed to be watched while doing something else: scrolling your phone, making dinner, taking trips to the multiplex bar, making out with your significant other, and only occasionally looking up at the screen going, "Wooo, that's cool." I have nothing against movies that are more about clever stunts, well-staged fights, and big explosions than complex storytelling if they're well-made (which this one is not), but movies of this ilk should be no longer than 99 minutes. The Fall Guy clocks in at over two hours! Why? So we can see the same "comedic" fight scene over and over? It's not really all that funny watching Gosling get hit so often that he'd be reduced to a bloody pulp after one such beating, but it gets consistently less funny the more we see the same fight, with the same approach to choreography, the same relentless editing style and exaggerated sound design, and the same lame jokes. It's the more-is-less school of filmmaking that also characterized Leitch's tedious Atomic Blonde (2017) and abysmal Bullet Train (2022).

One can feel an active contempt for narrative in a movie like this, which makes it all the more baffling why it doesn't all play out quicker with a smaller number of sequences that are actually exciting to watch rather than a convoluted mush of monotonously banal visuals and gags. A shorter, more impressive showcase might make us want to go back and watch the movie again and again instead of wanting to leave the theater long before the endlessly drawn-out picture reaches its third act. I mean, if you're the type of filmmaker who thinks stories get in the way of a good movie, why the hell would you burden your film with so much unnecessary plot and dialogue? The Fall Guy begins with a lengthy pre-credit sequence full of long all-in-one takes and rapid cuts illustrating the piles of exposition Gosling's character dumps on us via voice-over. One simple but well-written, well-staged five-minute sequence could have set up the whole film perfectly, establishing Cole's status in the industry and his early relationship with Jody and ending with the stunt that caused his retirement. Creating scenes that show us things rather than tell us about them is what good filmmaking is about; complicated single-take shots full of terrible dialogue that even the best actors currently working can't make credible or fun, underscored with blasé narration, are what demo reels are about. And even a silly popcorn movie like this shouldn't just feel like a string of generic demo reels.

Amazingly, just as neither the fight scenes nor the scenes of screwball banter build in any way towards any kind of crescendo, the stunt sequences also play out in a bland, repetitive fashion rather than giving us the feeling of stakes constantly getting raised and feats of skill becoming more and more challenging. That might not have been true on paper, as you can imagine how the various set pieces might have had some inherent progression in the script. But they are all executed in the same dull, breakneck style, which relies so heavily on CGI that it's impossible to get invested in anything that happens because none of it looks either realistic from a character perspective or impressive from the standpoint of appreciating the stunt coordinators' work.

One can't help but compare The Fall Guy less to the TV show it is in-name-only based on and more to Hal Needham's Hooper (1978). That Burt Reynolds vehicle was hardly a masterpiece of cinema, but it did give us a little insight into the life of a '70s-era stuntman. This film has plenty of opportunities to explore the contemporary world of the stunt player and how digital technology has affected their art, work, and lifestyle. But this picture is only interested in using such concepts as dumb, empty plot points devoid of any connection to the reality of the unsung craft that its characters are always lamenting gets no respect. Movies like this are supposed to be tons of fun in a "just turn off your brain and have a good time" kind of way. But The Fall Guy is not fun. It's the cinematic equivalent of a wisdom tooth extraction.

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Gosling and Blunt are two actors I'd love to see in a summer popcorn blockbuster, but David Leitch's film about an aging stuntman working on his ex-girlfriend's first movie is tedious sit, with dumb characters and a tangible contempt for storytelling.