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Saturday, May 25, 2024

Review: The Fall Guy (2024)


Director:
David Leitch 
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emily Blunt, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Hannah Waddingham 

Tough guys have feelings, too, and who better to explore those than Ryan Gosling, spending a second summer deconstructing the idea of masculinity – albeit not in quite as overt a fashion as he did in Barbie. Nor quite as successfully, judging by the box office, which is a shame because The Fall Guy is a hell of a lot of fun. Combining action – and making the case for good, old fashioned practical stunts – comedy and romance, it’s the kind of movie that should have something for everyone.

Loosely based on the TV series of the same name, The Fall Guy stars Gosling as Colt Seavers, a stunt performer who regularly stands in for star Tom Ryder (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). While working on Ryder’s latest film, he enjoys a relationship camerawoman Jody Moreno (Emily Blunt), but things take a turn when a stunt goes horrifically wrong and Colt is left gravely injured as a result. In the aftermath, he retreats from everyone, including Jody, and sort of gives up on himself until he’s contacted by Tom’s producer, Gail (Hannah Waddingham), 18 months after the accident. Tom’s next big action project is also (somewhat improbably) Jody’s big break as a director and Jody has specifically asked for Colt to join the stunt crew. Still carrying a torch despite having shut her out of his life, Colt heads to Sydney, only to discover that Jody doesn’t want him there at all.

The relationship between Colt and Jody is the sun around which the rest of the film’s elements orbit, anchoring the story with genuine emotion so that the wackier elements don’t completely take over. Take the sequence in which Jody has Colt perform a fire stunt. Given the opportunity to set her ex-boyfriend on fire and catapult him into a rock, she can’t help herself from forcing him to do it over and over and over again, pausing only to rhetorically ponder how the actions of the space cowboy he’s playing (yes, really) affect the alien woman who simply wants to love him. On the face of it, it’s a ridiculous scene, but it’s grounded in something real, which the film allows to grow in a scene that follows, in which Jody apologizes for what she did but makes clear how badly Colt hurt her previously. When she tells him how much she detests the macho stuntman posturing of insisting that all is well when it’s not, he admits how difficult it can be acknowledge that things aren’t okay, to say that you need help at the moment when you most need help. In other words, it wasn’t a question of love, it was a question of making himself more vulnerable at a moment in time when he was forced to face just how vulnerable he already was.

The two come to an understanding and there’s an opening for them to try to start over but, alas, what’s happening around them threatens to prevent a reconciliation from happening. Colt is in Sydney for a reason, after all, and it’s not because Jody wanted him there. It’s because Gail is trying to hold the production together and the technology is there that will allow them to film with Colt and then superimpose Tom’s face onto his body. Why’s that necessary? Well, it seems that Tom’s gone MIA and it has something to do with a drug dealer, a dead body, and, without giving too much away, a much larger plot that Gail is trying to shape.

The main draw of the film is going to be the stunts, of which there are many, as should be expected from director David Leitch, a former stunt double himself whose previous films include Atomic Blonde and an uncredited turn as co-director of the first John Wick. I couldn’t tell you how many of the stunts are practical versus CGI, which attests to the success of whatever CGI the film is deploying. The less you can tell, the better it is, and I can’t recall a sequence where things looked noticeably unreal – save and except for some scenes which include a unicorn, for reasons I won’t get into.

The secret weapon of the film is its comedy, which keeps the vibe loose and allows the natural charm of the stars to shine. Gosling, a master of being handsomely goofy, plays Colt as a man so accustomed to having to think his way through high adrenaline situations that nothing really phases him, whether it’s engaging in hand-to-hand combat, driving a speedboat with his hands tied behind his back, or having to fight off the bad guys at the back of a truck while trusting a French speaking stunt dog to take care of the bad guy driving. No matter how death defying the situation, Colt sort of approaches it like a minor annoyance, something he has to quickly take care of before he can get back to what he really wants to do, which is convince Jody to give him another chance. In the role of his b√™te noir, Taylor-Johnson delivers a send up of self-important movie stars that only gets funnier when you realize that he’s purposely doing a Matthew McConnaughey impression, while Blunt, though left to play more angst than comedy until the end, shows that she's game for whatever the movie throws her way, cycling her character through heartbreak, comedy, terror, and the impish delight of delivering some comeuppance.

But perhaps the best thing about The Fall Guy is that for all it manages to pack in - a ton of stunts, a romantic plot, and a mystery subplot - it never overstays its welcome. At 126 minutes, it avoids the bloat that so many movies lately seem to revel in. Instead, it just does what it's there to do (entertain the hell out of you for two hours) and then sends you on your way - which is exactly what a summer movie ought to do.

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