David Leitch is a former stuntman turned superstar action director/writer/producer who helped reinvent the genre through his 87North company. Ryan Gosling is a blockbuster actor at the top of his game. Emily Blunt has been in dire need of an action vehicle ever since Edge of Tomorrow proved her chops.

Put them all together and we have The Fall Guy, an action/romance/comedy made and marketed as a tribute to the stunt performers who make our movies so spectacular. Even better, they’re supplemented by such capable supporting talents as Winston Duke, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Stephanie Hsu, and Hannah Waddingham. Hell, even Teresa Palmer makes an impression with this one.

But then we have the bad news: The screenplay comes to us from Drew Pearce. The guy who wrote/directed Hotel Artemis — that instantly-forgotten third-rate John Wick knockoff — is here collaborating with the actual Team John Wick. Oh, but then I remember that Leitch and Pearce had previously collaborated on Hobbs & Shaw, that Fast and Furious spinoff that went nowhere. Teaming up again was a bold gamble. It didn’t pay off.

(Side note: It turns out the film was VERY loosely based on an early ’80s TV show, one of many from the late Glen A. Larson. Obligingly, the original series stars Lee Majors and Heather Thomas get to poke their heads in for a fun little post-credits cameo. Could’ve sworn I heard another Lee Majors tribute by way of the iconic “Six-Million Dollar Man” sound effect as well.)

Gosling plays Colt Seavers, a stunt performer who’s spent the past several years as a stunt double for Tom Ryder (Taylor-Johnson), who gets all the fame and fortune as a world-class action star while sharing none of the credit. Not that Colt particularly minds, as he’s only interested in his whirlwind romance with camera op Jody Moreno (Blunt). Alas, it all goes downhill when a stunt goes wrong and Colt gets grievously injured.

Cut to 18 months later. (Seems like an awful tight turnaround time for everything that happens in the interim, but we’ll roll with it.) Colt has been lying low, working as a valet driver while he recovers from his injury and feels sorry for himself. Meanwhile, Jody’s landed her big break as the director on a huge space opera action/romance, which she’s conveniently using to work through her own abandonment issues with Colt.

Problem: Tom Ryder — the star of her movie — has gone missing. Thus Colt is lured onto the set to try and find him while filling in for the missing star so the movie can be finished and Jody’s fledgling career can be saved. The search for Tom Ryder gets Colt into an escalating series of criminal hijinks and dead bodies, and we’re off to the races.

To start with the obvious, the action scenes kick ass. Thrilling, inventive, superbly presented, nicely visceral, and presented with comedic flair. This is absolutely up to the standard we’ve come to expect from 87North.

Which brings me to the other main selling point of the movie: The showbiz commentary. Every generation needs a movie like this, paying sincere heartfelt tribute to everyone working behind the scenes to make our big-budget entertainment possible. The film makes an impassioned argument for why cinema matters — even big-budget “brainless” CGI pablum — while also questioning what’s worth sacrificing to make a movie possible. It’s a film that celebrates the stunt performers — those unsung heroes who take all the hits and injuries for our leading actors — by pushing the stuntman/actor relationship to its most outrageous limits.

Then we have the romance angle. This is where we start running into problems. It’s not that Blunt and Gosling are completely void of chemistry — the relationship between them is sufficiently adorable. The problem is that Blunt is doing all the heavy lifting.

Blunt is doing 80-90 percent of the work in selling the relationship between the two, though she’s more than seasoned enough to pull it off. Then again, it helps that aside from one minor shoehorned-in fight sequence, Blunt only really has to focus on being a romcom lead. Compare that to Gosling, who’s spreading himself way too thin.

Gosling can be a stoic unstoppable badass (Drive). He can be a snarky rough-and-tumble gumshoe in over his head (The Nice Guys). He can be a self-effacing goof (Barbie) and he can be a sweet romcom heartthrob (Crazy, Stupid, Love). But this script needed him to be all of the above all at once. He’s good, but he’s not that good. And that’s no slight against him — I don’t know if anyone is that good.

The antagonists are another huge problem. For starters, they’re idiots. Their big plot is one that never would’ve worked even if everything had gone according to plan, and when things go wrong, they fly off the handle in ways that would only land them in deeper legal trouble. I know it’s part of the point that they’ve got more ego and money than sense, but that doesn’t make for a satisfying neo-noir thriller mystery plot.

Moreover, Colt knows more about the movie business than our antagonists, and he’s got stronger connections with those in the cast and crew who can help him. He’s infinitely more capable of taking and throwing a punch, and he’s consistently capable of outsmarting the bad guys with relatively little effort. There’s also the tiny little detail that after so many years as Tom Ryder’s double, he knows Ryder better than he knows himself, which is a huge advantage here. The conflict is thus terribly imbalanced, which doesn’t make for a compelling plot.

Another huge problem with the villains is how two-dimensional they are. Case in point: Hannah Waddingham’s character makes it obvious pretty much immediately that every word out of her mouth is a lie. She’s transparently untrustworthy to the point where it’s a recurring plot issue.

In effect, what we’ve got here is a neo-noir mystery plot driven by nincompoops who think they’re smarter and more powerful than they really are. This in turn makes for a plot with a convoluted setup leading to a lazy and underwhelming solution. That’s a pretty big problem.

There’s nothing wrong with The Fall Guy that another couple of screenplay drafts — and possibly another writer — couldn’t have fixed. The plot is imbalanced, the protagonist is all over the place, all the other characters are two-dimensional at best, and the central mystery thriller plot is sadly underwhelming. Then again, I have to wonder if this was entirely Drew Pearce’s fault.

With Bullet Train, Leitch made it perfectly obvious that he was trying to branch out, expanding what he could do within the action genre. I respect that, and I’ll readily admit that this movie’s action/comedy blend is far more effective. Even so, Leitch has once again proven his limits as a director, taking on far too many disparate genres than he could effectively juggle.

This is one that gets by on presentation. The romance is sweet, the comedy is effective, the action is phenomenal, and everything this movie has to say about the film industry is on point. It’s such a fun movie to sit through that you almost forget the plot is dogshit.

The spectacle is worth checking out on the big screen, but you might want to wait a few weeks for the ticket prices to drop.


For more Movie Curiosities, check out my blog. I’m also on Facebook and BlueSky.

About Author

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.