The Fall Guy Is a Sloppy but Sweet Ode to Hollywood Stuntmen

Ryan Gosling is all charm in the new action-comedy The Fall Guy. It’s overstuffed and uneven, but it’s so upbeat that you won’t even mind.

Ryan Gosling as Colt Seavers in The Fall Guy. (Universal Pictures)

There’s a beautiful moment in the new action-comedy The Fall Guy when the stuntman Colt Seavers, played by Ryan Gosling, gets reacquainted with a former colleague, a stunt dog named Jean-Claude. As soon as the situation turns rough and the villains must be chased down, Seavers takes off yelling, “Come on, Jean-Claude!” and the dog is at his side in an instant, racing toward danger with a look of such heroic intensity, every action film star should aspire to it.

Generally, Jean-Claude only responds to commands in French, a funny recurring bit. But he’ll make an exception for his old friend Colt.

This Colt is based on the title character in the old 1980s TV show The Fall Guy starring Lee Majors, who appears here in a cameo. He’s a stuntman who gets sidelined by a devastating career injury and ends his promising relationship with camera operator Jody Moreno, played by Emily Blunt, because if he can’t hurl himself fearlessly into physical danger, he doesn’t feel he has anything to offer.

But after a long, depressing interlude of physical recovery and parking cars for a living, he gets pulled back into show business by a maniacally smiling producer named Gail Meyer (Hannah Waddington of Ted Lasso). She claims Jody wants him to return as a stuntman for her directorial debut, a sci-fi action movie filming in Sydney, Australia, called Metalstorm.

Once Colt gets on set however, he discovers Jody never requested him and is still furious at him for ditching her. As revenge, she puts him through a series of punishing stunts, such as having him set on fire repeatedly, take after take. Between incinerations, she insists on telling him in front of the entire crew the supposed plot of Metalstorm, which has a love story that bears a suspicious resemblance to their own cratered relationship.

But it soon becomes apparent that the big problem on the Metalstorm set is the strange nonappearance of the hard-partying leading man, Tom Ryder (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a delusional egomaniac who always claims in interviews, “I do all my own stunts.”  I’ll give you three guesses as to which real-life action star is being mocked here.

It turns out that producer Gail actually hired Colt, Ryder’s former stunt double, to track down the missing star before the studio gets wind of his absence. There’s a lot more intrigue and skullduggery going on — too much probably, because it muddles the lines of action. As lowbrow critic Joe Bob Briggs used to put it, “There’s too much plot getting in the way of the story.”

The Fall Guy is like that — oddly dragging, in spite of some inspired interludes like the Jean-Claude ones, and a few lively actions scenes, and the comic-romantic chemistry of Gosling and Blunt, which helps throughout. But the movie is overlong, a bit over two hours, and too much of it limps along weighed down by strangely slack sequences that would’ve been funny at a fraction of the length, or are supposed to be touching but aren’t working, or are meant to be exciting but are overly familiar action scene patterns.

Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt in The Fall Guy. (Universal Pictures)

Director David Leitch seems to have a strangely impaired sense of pacing. It must’ve been Chad Stahelski — the other stuntman turned action film director who did the first John Wick film (2014) with Leitch, though Leitch was uncredited — who was maintaining John Wick’s impeccable tempo. Because in many ways, The Fall Guy is Bullet Train all over again.

Bullet Train (2022) was the last film that Leitch directed solo. Like The Fall Guy, it’s also an action-comedy centered on a professional tough guy made vulnerable by emotional problems. In the case of Bullet Train, it’s a hit man who’s succumbed to psychological frailty and a distaste for his violent job, who is just returning to work after a long stint in therapy. Charming stars with excellent comic timing play the lead roles in both — it’s Brad Pitt in Bullet Train — and the premises seem surefire in terms of action-comedy.

But just as Bullet Train suffers from slack pacing and unevenness, with inspired bits but too many scenes that don’t work or that do work briefly but then trail off into nothing, so too is Fall Guy dragged down by the same problems. Jean-Claude, who briefly turbo-charged the Fall Guy narrative, disappears suddenly without explanation in the midst of the action and then reappears at the end just so you won’t think he died. Stephanie Hsu of Everything Everywhere All at Once plays such a truncated role as Ryder’s personal assistant, it seems there must be a longer version of The Fall Guy and her other scenes got cut.

Bullet Train created that same impression of having been shot to be a longer, even more overstuffed film that got hacked down to fit a roughly two-hour time slot. Unfortunately, it was cut with a meat-cleaver so that boring bits stayed while elements you’d have liked to see more of got cruelly chopped.

Still, Bullet Train made a ton of money internationally, and there’s no reason to think The Fall Guy will be any less popular. A lot of us are starved for action films. And after Gosling’s spectacular charm offensive singing “I’m Just Ken” in Barbie and again at the Oscars, there can’t be many holdouts still resistant to his infuriating good looks. He’s so gym-ripped in The Fall Guy, he seems like the most eye-popping special effect in the movie. And, like Pitt, he’s learned over time how to use an ironically funny attitude toward his own physical beauty that disarms even the strongest.

So, what the hell — it’s May, the weather’s warmer, the movies will presumably get lighter and more entertaining, and we could all use a sloppy, good-natured break from our usual grueling routine. Plus there’s an earnest, honorable, feel-good angle to the movie, which is its celebration of stuntpeople, who don’t get nearly the credit they deserve for taking all the hits and falls and burns and injuries upon themselves so stars can look good on film and relax in their trailers during the dangerous stuff.  Stick around at the end for the outtakes showing footage of the real Fall Guy stunts.

Chunks of the movie don’t work so well, but we can still watch The Fall Guy in the generous spirit of springtime amusement as well as appreciation for the anonymous, highly skilled labor behind the scenes being celebrated here.