Film reviews and more since 2009

The Fall Guy (2024) review

Dir. David Leitch

By: Steve Pulaski

Rating: ★★★½

If you’re like me and felt a light-hearted and intoxicating aura of unbridled joy wash over you while watching The Fall Guy, I believe the reason for that is simple. Here’s a decisively old-fashioned summer blockbuster. It doesn’t require you to have read an entire series of books, nor is it spending an hour of its runtime actively setting up the next three or four movies. It has a lot in common with 2022’s The Lost City. It’s the type of film Hollywood has neglected to make due to the industry’s lack of interest in anything that isn’t over-budgeted, needlessly massive, and spandex-clad.

Stuntman-turned-director David Leitch has ostensibly wanted to make a film like The Fall Guy for sometime. Before helming Atomic Blonde and John Wick, Leitch was a widely respect stuntman who worked with the likes of Brad Pitt and Matt Damon. His latest acts as a love-letter to an oft-shortchanged group of individuals, who risk their lives for our entertainment and the authenticity of art. Stuntmen and women tempt fate and leave their crew with baited breath until the cameras cut and the performers flash them a “thumbs up” gesture to ensure they’re not hurt (too bad). And what a love-letter it is, combining humor, romance, intrigue, action, and peril, seldom wasting a moment, and (blessed so) populating the picture with colorful characters who do more than brood and sulk their way through the film.

You might need to be told The Fall Guy is loosely based on the 1980s TV series starring Lee Majors. In similar fashion to 21 Jump Street, Leitch and screenwriter Drew Pearce (Iron Man 3) recognize that the demand for a faithful adaptation of the series is in low demand. Best to go in a different direction, if you plan to do it at all (The Mod Squad could’ve learned a thing or two).

Ryan Gosling stars as Colt Seavers, a stunt performer in Hollywood who often acts as a double to a diva action movie star named Tom Ryder (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). After a fall nearly costs him his life, Colt’s 18-month recovery finds him stepping away from both the film industry and his camera-operator girlfriend, Jody (Emily Blunt), unsure he’ll ever work again. Then comes a phone-call from Gail (Hannah Waddingham), Jody’s producer on his ex’s directorial debut, who begs him to come out of retirement, claiming Jody wants him to work on the film. Jody wants no such thing. But it gets Colt back in his element, even if it results in him being accosted by Jody in front of the crew. She recites the plot of the movie they’re filming to him, and it becomes clear the narrative is parallel to the story of their breakup. The second act of The Fall Guy kicks into high-gear when Ryder mysteriously goes missing, prompting Colt to go out and investigate, getting help from Ryder’s assistant (Stephanie Hsu, Everything Everywhere All At Once) and his fellow stunt-performer/best friend (Winston Duke).

Despite being a two-hour film, The Fall Guy doesn’t do what most blockbusters do, and that’s waste time. If it’s not dazzling us with an action sequence — one of its best involving a brawl on a large dumpster spinning on its side, sparking up the streets of Sydney as its hauled by a vehicle driven by Hsu — it’s giving us fun and memorable interactions between its characters. Consider a phone-call between Colt and Jody after Colt finds a dead body. On the phone, Jody asks for his opinion on split-screen in movies, to which Leitch’s film responds by turning the conversation between the two characters into a kitschy side-by-side, split-screen presentation, reflecting Jody’s vision. Here’s an example of when winking at the audience turns into something beyond a brief bit of self-referential humor and extends into an amusing bit.

Ryan Gosling has officially embraced the role of a Hollywood movie-star too, flexing his charisma, demonstrating a magnetic likability, and showing range as a performer both physically and emotionally. I wouldn’t have believed you if you said one of the more emotional bits of the movie involves Gosling’s Colt tearfully reflecting on his relationship with Jody while Taylor Swift’s “All Too Well” playing in his vehicle. However, after his turn as Ken in Barbie, I would’ve bought the idea that Gosling throws himself into the role of Colt, converging his good-looks and talents into a role that’s both handsome and hilarious. He’s got a perfect partner in Emily Blunt, who gets the opportunity to show her own strength, especially in the third act, which requires her to assume more of a leading role in a picture that could’ve sidelined her as the love interest and nothing more.

Even as kinetic as the combat and car-jumping sequences get, Leitch makes sure they’re all conducted with clarity and suspense. Part of the reason they work so well is because we care about the individuals executing them. Plus when was the last time a movie made you smile because it included a song like KISS’ “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” when the going was getting good?

There’s also a subtle commentary about the use of deepfake technology as well as AI that comes across as a shot at the film industry for even considering these devices when there are more than enough people willing to work on a movie in some capacity. As Mad Max: Fury Road and Top Gun: Maverick demonstrated, the modern blockbuster isn’t dead. It’s just come to the point where ones that prioritize two hours of fun, thrills, dynamic humor, and suspense are a bit harder to find. Like the latter, The Fall Guy sets the tone for the summer blockbuster season, although, if history repeats, we might be hard-pressed to get another as good as this one until the next calendar year.

NOTE: The Fall Guy is now playing exclusively in theaters.

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emily Blunt, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Hannah Waddingham, Stephanie Hsu, Winston Duke, and Teresa Palmer. Directed by: David Leitch.

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About Steve Pulaski

Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!

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