THE FALL GUY Takes Its Punches and Earns Its Laughs

David Leitch’s hilarious ode to filmmaking’s unsung heroes is the stuff the best summer blockbusters are made of

Stills courtesy of Universal Pictures.

In The Fall Guy, Colt Seavers (Ryan Gosling) has long accepted his place playing second fiddle to Hollywood megastar Tom Ryder (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). As the star’s go-to stuntman, Colt jumps into action when Tom’s characters do. Colt leaps from buildings, rolls over cars, and is endlessly set on fire to increase Tom’s star power and win over camera operator Jody (Emily Blunt). An on-set accident wounds more than Colt’s ego and nearly knocks him out of the stunt game for good, but producer Gail (Hannah Waddingham) convinces Colt to strap back in for Jody’s directorial debut. However, Colt isn’t just there to help save Jody’s film: Gail needs Colt to find the missing Tom, who’s disappeared mid-shoot. When the cameras stop rolling, Colt tries to balance rekindling his romance with Jody and finding her missing lead in the criminal underworlds of Sydney, Australia.

A rollicking romantic love letter to the stunts that form the backbone of our best blockbusters, The Fall Guy seems reverse-engineered to be a crowd-pleasing summer chart-topper. Newly Oscar-nominated leads fresh from last year’s Barbenheimer frenzy? Got ‘em. A stunts-based director known for bringing out the action star qualities of A-listers? Absolutely. Decades-old IP ripe for an injection of meta-humor? In spades. But David Leitch’s Fall Guy, from a banger script by Drew Pearce based on the ‘80s Lee Majors TV show, doesn’t take its money-printing qualities at face value. Rather, Leitch’s latest draws upon the inside baseball knowledge of its cast and crew to create a wryly tongue-in-cheek skewering of an industry that takes its hardest workers for granted.

Hollywood is built on the broken backs of its stunt community–people who place their lives on the line in the name of entertainment. Yet despite their sacrifices, they’re seen as some of the industry’s most disposable commodities. Stars are happy to take credit for their efforts, an act that’s grown increasingly literal with the advent of deepfakes (itself a key plot point). On the flip side, the nature of stunt doubles’ hidden identities means they can be replaced at the first sign of weakness or injury. Like too many others in Hollywood, stunt players are needed until they’re not. 

This combination of industry cynicism and a reverence for the cinematic spectacle born from it makes for awe-inspiring stunt sequences and side-splitting comedy throughout Fall Guy’s breathless two-hour runtime. Already having proven his chops at action (Drive, The Grey Man, Blade Runner 2049) and slapstick/deadpan comedy (The Nice Guys, Crazy Stupid Love, Barbie), Gosling is a natural fit for Colt’s self-effacing mania, capable of blundering his way through sequences equally inspired by Buster Keaton as they are by director Leitch’s previous collaborations with fellow stuntman turned John Wick creative Chad Stahelski. In bluntly winking yet admirable fashion, this A-list star also lends an effective voice to the decades of frustrated stuntmen unrecognized for their efforts–including an extended bit about the lack of a Stunts category at the Oscars. While the film plays into the charming schtick that’s made Gosling a household name, Gosling elevates his star persona by meeting every demand of the physical gauntlet Leitch puts him through. The same can be said of the rest of Fall Guy’s cast–everyone including Blunt, Waddingham, Taylor-Johnson, and memorable turns by Stephanie Hsu and Winston Duke gets their chance to channel their inner John Wick, whether it’s close-quarters combat in a speeding dump truck or some on-set alien battlefield mayhem. 

The Fall Guy’s most refreshing approach to its action-fueled meta-comedy, however, is how Leitch and Pearce drive home emotional resonance when you least expect it. The reunion between Gosling and Blunt, in particular, begins as a bit of satisfying revenge by Jody for Colt’s inexplicable ghosting and unexpected return. As the scene goes on, it’s clear that Colt lets himself be set on fire and thrown against boulders out of the penance she demands of him as much as the demands of the job, but also there’s his undeniable golden-retriever optimism that, should he endure whatever she throws at him, she might take him back. Amidst the film’s shady goings-on, it’s clear that Colt’s ego is also just as much of an antagonist as the generic baddies pursuing him. As much as the job goes unrecognized, there’s a pride that comes with being an effective stuntman–and any instance of failure becomes a deep wound. Colt’s reckoning with his shortcomings and failures informs much of Fall Guy’s action comedy–there’s only so much this guy can do, and it’s hilariously riveting seeing how this washed-up pro earns his place as the real-life action star he helps other, more famous people pretend to be on camera.

While The Fall Guy is open about its origins as a reverse-engineered four-quadrant theater packer, its bold willingness to take one on the chin as far as its laughs and dazzling stuntwork earnestly makes it the stuff the best Summer blockbusters are made of. 

Now get these guys a damn Oscars category already!

The Fall Guy hits theaters on May 3rd, 2024 courtesy of Universal Pictures.

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