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Ryan Gosling is 'The Fall Guy' in this cheerfully nonsensical stuntman thriller

Ryan Gosling is Colt Seavers in <em>The Fall Guy.</em>
Universal Pictures
Ryan Gosling is Colt Seavers in The Fall Guy.

From the 1933 action film Lucky Devils to the 1980 comedy-thriller The Stunt Man to Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood, filmmakers have long delighted in turning the camera on stunt performers, those professional daredevils who risk life and limb to make action scenes look convincing.

It's a hard, often thankless job, which is why for years people have lobbied the motion picture academy to present an Oscar for stunt work. And of course, it's a dangerous job: Just last month, while shooting the Eddie Murphy movie The Pickup, several crew members were injured during a stunt involving two rolling cars.

There's a lot of vehicular mayhem in the noisily diverting new action-comedy The Fall Guy, a feature-length reboot of the '80s TV series. Ryan Gosling stars as a highly skilled stunt performer named Colt Seavers, who, despite his cynical film-noir-style voiceover, genuinely loves his job.

Colt loves movies and moviemaking, loves hurling himself off balconies and strapping himself into soon-to-be-totaled automobiles. Most of all, he loves Jody Moreno, an up-and-coming assistant director played by Emily Blunt, and she loves him right back.

Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt star in <em>The Fall Guy.</em>
/ Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures
Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt star in The Fall Guy.

Colt works mainly as a stunt double for Tom Ryder, a world-famous movie star played by a preening Aaron Taylor-Johnson. But when Colt suffers a life-threatening injury on the set, he quits the biz in despair and ghosts Jody for more than a year while he recovers. But then he learns that Jody is directing a big-budget sci-fi movie in Sydney and wants him to be Tom's stunt double again. Upon arriving Down Under, however, Colt finds out that Jody did not ask for him and has no idea why he's here.

The reason for Colt's appearance on the set is one mystery in a cheerfully nonsensical thriller plot devised by the screenwriter Drew Pearce. There's also a body in a bathtub, an incriminating cell phone and several amusing side characters, including a busybody producer played by Hannah Waddingham of Ted Lassofame.

Another key player is Colt's best friend and stunt coordinator, Dan, played by the always excellent Winston Duke. In one endearing running gag, Colt and Dan keep quoting dialogue from classic films like The Last of the Mohicans, The Fugitive and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, all of which The Fall Guy giddily tries to outdo in its sheer volume of death-defying mayhem.

Before long, Colt isn't just performing stunts. He's forced to put his well-honed survival skills to good use off the set, whether he's beating up thugs in a nightclub, punching villains in a helicopter or getting tossed around in the back of a speeding garbage truck. That's one of several set-pieces that the director David Leitchopted to shoot using practical techniques, rather than CGI — a decision that gives this stunt-centric movie an undeniable integrity.

The Fall Guy is undoubtedly a passion project for Leitch, who once worked as a stunt double for actors including Brad Pitt and Jean-Claude Van Damme. (He nods to this by giving Colt a handy canine companion named Jean-Claude.) Leitch can direct action beautifully, as he did in the Charlize Theron smash-'em-up Atomic Blonde. But he can also go too flamboyantly over-the-top, as in sloppier recent efforts like Bullet Train and Hobbs & Shaw. The Fall Guy is better than those two, but it would have been better still with cleaner action, tighter editing and a running time south of two hours.

Blunt is such a good comedian and action star that it's a shame she doesn't get more to do in either department; Jody may be in the director's chair, but as a character, she's mainly a second banana. The Fall Guy is Gosling's picture. Unlike the brooding, taciturn stuntmen the actor played in Driveand The Place Beyond the Pines, Colt is a wonderfully expressive goofball. There's a moment here, after a fiery boat chase around Sydney Harbour, when Colt emerges triumphant from the water, clothes dripping and muscles bulging, while a euphoric cover of Kiss' "I Was Made for Lovin' You" surges for the umpteenth time on the soundtrack. It's ridiculous and gloriously overwrought — and like the best-executed stunts, it comes perilously close to movie magic.

Copyright 2024 Fresh Air

Justin Chang is a film critic for the Los Angeles Times and NPR's Fresh Air, and a regular contributor to KPCC's FilmWeek. He previously served as chief film critic and editor of film reviews for Variety.