Not to put anyone off The Fall Guy, but it does feature massive spoilers for a thirty-three-year-old movie titled Thelma & Louise. Warning aside, it is The Fall Guy’s appreciation, admiration, and recognition of such films as that Ridley Scott crime romp along with countless others like First Blood, the Fast franchise, and any number of Julia Roberts romantic comedies that make stuntman turned filmmaker David Leitch's latest so endearing to avid movie fans like myself. The flipside of that coin is that The Fall Guy is also very much one of those types of movies, whether it be an over the top action adventure flick or a bombastic rom com, for modern audiences now breaking free of the serialized blockbusters we’ve become accustomed to over the last generation and who are now being ingratiated into true summer blockbuster territory. It may spoil Thelma & Louise but what it really wants is for you to either seek these movies out or re-visit them in hopes of discovering or renewing a sense of inspiration. As Ryan Gosling's Colt Seavers would say, The Fall Guy is very much a “thumbs up” version of this kind of moviemaking; a fun, ostentatious (in the best way), and wholly entertaining palette cleanser. 

What makes The Fall Guy even more of a return to those summer blockbusters of yesteryear beyond the somewhat novel concept (it’s partially based on the 80s TV show starring Lee Majors and Heather Thomas who both make cameos in a mid-credit scene here) is the fact the film is being sold as much if not more on its stars than its premise. Riding high off the pink nuclear fumes of last summer’s “Barbenheimer” Universal paired Oppenheimer’s Emily Blunt with Ken himself and in many ways, this feels like a culmination of this current phase for both of these actors' careers. Gosling is THE marquee star of the moment yet upends that persona by playing a “forgettable” stunt man (brilliant!) whereas Blunt is not only game to be the love interest, but is very intentional about positioning her Jody Moreno as a woman at the helm of this massive production who not only has a vision and a voice, but is able to steer the ship in a successful fashion all while working with Colt to better understand their relationship status. That relationship status is the heart of the film as Colt seeks to atone for past mistakes but the action he's chasing outside his professional life doesn't supplant the film's main objective: blowing things up and beating the shit out of people.  

Stuntman Colt Seavers (Ryan Gosling) and Director Jody Moreno (Emily Blunt) rekindle a romance on the set of their latest collaboration.
Photo by Universal Pictures - © Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved.

If Gosling and Blunt feel a little senior for such roles it’s because they are, but the absolutely effortless and electric chemistry between the two of them in addition to the overall goofy tone the movie strikes outweigh any responsibility to emphasizing credibility. The film even goes to the lengths of emulating those 80s and 90s trends of launching a fan favorite TV star into the world of movies via Hannah Waddingham’s (Ted Lasso) conniving producer, Gail. The most important piece of The Fall Guy puzzle though? That would be director Leitch who worked both as a stunt performer and stunt coordinator prior to crossing over to filmmaker in 2014 with his longtime collaborator Chad Stahelski on the first John Wick film. While only having produced the three Wick sequels, in the decade since that first film Leitch has directed two original action films and two massive sequels for pre-established franchises. With The Fall Guy, Leitch is very deliberately paying homage to as well as elevating the craft of the stuntman and the critical role they play in the making of large-scale Hollywood productions. The absence of a category devoted to doing just that at the Academy Awards has long been a hot topic with Leitch and screenwriter Drew Pearce (Hotel Artemis, Hobbs & Shaw) acknowledging as much in the context of the film. While this is very clearly a film close to Leitch’s heart and carries a message that hopefully extends far past this moment it is equally as impressive that Leitch doesn’t lose sight of the small moments necessary to make the film engaging and memorable within that overarching goal. And sure, the aforementioned chemistry between the leads does a fair amount of heavy lifting, but Leitch and co. also have enough filmmaking tricks and storytelling ticks to keep us wrapped up in the drama and intrigue of it all.

Colt is a former stuntman who experienced a career-ending accident on the set of his last collaboration with worldwide superstar Tom Ryder (Aaron Taylor-Johnson doing his best Matthew McConaughey) during which he’d also began courting a camera operator AKA Blunt’s Jody. The two had clearly hit it off and were seeing one another, but after the accident Colt disappeared from Hollywood, cut ties with everyone from his old life, and started working as a valet at a local restaurant. Seclusion only lasts so long though as Waddingham’s Gail comes calling several years later requesting Colt return to what he does best as Jody has moved up the ladder and is getting her shot at directing a big summer tentpole (“It’s high noon at the edge of the universe.”) with some major stunts (that will be shown at Comic-Con, Hall H, it's a big deal.). Colt jumps (and barrel rolls, and gets set on fire, and...) at the opportunity to reconnect and potentially rekindle what he and Jody had, but upon his arrival discovers all is not as it seems. Ryder is AWOL and Gail has essentially recruited Colt to find him and bring him back to set before the studio cancels the project and Jody loses her dream job.

To set the tone (and your expectations) this is a film largely set against variations on and different arrangements of KISS's 1979 classic "I Was Made For Lovin' You". This is fitting as the mission statement and core values of arena rock are one thousand percent in line with that of what The Fall Guy intends to accomplish. The hair may not be as big as some of the staples of that genre, but the stunts are as big as the guitars and the stars are as sweeping as the big, melodic choruses. And like arena rock, one might question whether or not the film is more concerned with spectacle and mass appeal over artistic merit and the answer is an obvious, "of course it is!" That said, The Fall Guy is also a movie that loves movies so the difference between the interests of the "middlebrow" populace versus critics and cinephiles is a perfectly blurred line in this case. Yes, The Fall Guy is first and foremost about dramatic production, but it also understands that designing itself for a mass audience doesn't mean it has to sacrifice the nuances specifically thrown in for movie-lovers whom the cast and crew clearly relate to. Whether it be in something as obvious as Winston Duke's stunt coordinator character whose relationship with Colt is based purely around movie quotes - The Fugitive moment is pure bliss - or simpler choices such as having Colt and Jody discuss their relationship via metaphor while on set through speakers in front of the full cast and crew rather than taking the easy way out for such a scenario. Finding ways to make the mundane creatively inspired is what movies do best when they're at their best and whether it be through little (literal) unicorn touches, the way certain sequences are cut - namely the hotel card sequence - or the split screen scene, Leitch is at the very least always pushing to find more innovative ways of conveying necessary but nt always exciting moments. There is also a running joke about Colt trying to obtain a cup of coffee that I wish went on longer and had a better payoff, but hey, the set list can't be all hits.

Colt performs a dangerous stunt for a fake movie called "Metal Storm" in stuntman turned director David Leitch's The Fall Guy.
Photo by Universal Pictures - © Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved.

To speak of misses within The Fall Guy though, is to note there truly are not many. Sure, the "conflict" between Gosling and Blunt's characters begins to feel slightly redundant after we haven't made much progress after the first half hour, but the pacing almost immediately corrects itself as soon as such thoughts begin to surface. No, there isn't a ton of characterization as we are meant to understand who these individuals from the word go: Colt exudes gritty charm and has messy, dirty blonde hair while Jody wears perfectly tailored jumpers that exude "cute as a button" that also bet on others underestimating her based on these looks. And yes, the plotting gets a little convoluted going into the third act when Taylor-Johnson's Ryder (pay attention to the Funny People-level fake posters in his trailer btw) begins to figure in more prominently, but there is a sequence at the end of the second act that largely embodies everything, good and bad, about The Fall Guy. In the scene, Gosling's Colt has been captured by a set of goons looking to retrieve a phone that contains an incriminating video and while there are some puzzles to be put together around the master plan at play (to be fair, this movie could either fall completely apart or surprise me with how well it holds up on a second viewing), but in the midst of this interrogation and seemingly impending doom for our hero he pulls out a stunt so badass you almost don't care if the set-up or execution strains credibility. It doesn't hurt that the series of shots following this stunt pay off a Miami Vice joke that was set-up exceptionally early in the film.

The biggest compliment one can pay The Fall Guy is that with all it has going on and all it is attempting to do the finished product feels so assured and its appeal so effortless that the substance is inherently baked into the style. This is a world that Leitch has lived in and a story with characters who have no doubt made up his world for the majority of his life - it would be strange if this didn't feel as much for him and his people as it is the masses; the beautiful thing is that it easily accomplishes both. When a film features needle drops from The Darkness and Phil Collins there's no mistaking what perception the film is embracing and that its artistic merit will undoubtedly be questioned yet The Fall Guy is kind of explicitly challenging all walks of life - high culture, working class, middle class - to try and not have fun with the show it's putting on...much like arena rock; balance is key, but indulgences are necessary. The Fall Guy also ends with a fake trailer straight out of Tropic Thunder followed by a theme song sung by Blake Shelton over the credits, which, more or less renders the "dazzling yet empty" criticism a moot one.

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