THE FALL GUY – Review by Nadine Whitney

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David Leitch might have mentioned at some point he used to be a stuntman. In fact, it is his stock and trade along with Chad Stahelski – and it’s how they came up with 87North formula which gave audiences John Wick, Nobody, and a plethora of other action films. Bombast and heart – being ridiculous, over the top, and violent. Frantic, frenetic, and sometimes absolutely nonsensical.

The Fall Guy is the sweet spot where all the elements collide – comedy, romance, adventure, mystery, and location. Featuring the forever charming Ryan Gosling as Colt Seavers, a not as young as he used to be stuntman. His foil is the equally charming and versatile Emily Blunt as Jody Moreno, the love of his life – and the one he pushed away after he broke is back on a filmset doubling for action megastar Tom Ryder (Aaron Taylor-Johnson).

Although The Fall Guy shares DNA with the television series from the mid 1980s starring Lee Majors, it is its own unwieldy and riotous beast. Colt and Jody were once a thing – well a little more than a thing in each of their minds, but they never quite got it together before Colt had an accident on a set where Jody was a cameraperson. Thinking his “worth” was tied to his ability to take hits and get back up again, he withdrew from everything and everyone as he went through a long and lonely recovery.

A call from power producer and interference runner for Tom Ryder, Gail Meyer (Hannah Waddingham) enticing him to work on Jody’s debut feature Metal Storm takes him from Los Angeles to Sydney where the big budget, but entirely generic action sci-fi romance is being shot. Apparently, Jody asked for Colt specifically, which is news to Jody who is still emotionally raw because of Colt’s rejection of her offers to be there when he was at rock bottom.

The clue to the plot is in the title. A fall guy does stunts – a fall guy also takes the fall for someone else – in this case the reprehensible egomaniac Tom Ryder who is playing ‘Space Cowboy’ in Metal Storm but seems to have gone missing.

The Fall Guy is deliciously meta. Jokes about Tom Cruise land with a punch, and Gosling isn’t afraid to send up his own career too. Visual cues from First Man, The Nice Guys, Drive, and other works blend into the template of the action film. Emily Blunt is also having a laugh at her specific Britishness (her favourite films – Love Actually and Notting Hill) plus delivering on her own comedy and action credentials. Incidentally, her action cred comes from Edge of Tomorrow where she stars with Tom Cruise, and of course Sicario.

The Fall Guy is the kind of film which is throwing everything at the wall and hoping some of it sticks. Thankfully most of it does. From the banter between Jody and Colt, to Colt’s ‘movie dude stuff’ with his stunt coordinator Dan Tucker (Winston Duke). It doesn’t take long to work out the twist(s) but that’s all part of the fun. Going on the increasingly bizarre journey with Colt – there are even drug induced unicorns. Add Stephanie Hsu into the mix as Alma Milan, a production assistant at the end of her tether, and a character simply called Venti who never does manage to get a coffee into Colt’s hands. Plus, a bunch of clever cameos – and the meal is “tasty bacon.”

The music is pumping, a drawn-out tease of I Was Made for Loving You by KISS is the riff which fills the film. ACDC’s Thunderstruck is the sign you are in Australia. Taylor Swift’s All Too Well provides one of the many comic set pieces for Gosling who clearly enjoying himself playing the sincere guy who just wants to win back the woman he loves and avoid being killed by a bunch of hired thugs led by Australia’s own Ben Dressler.

The Fall Guy knows precisely how silly it is, but it has a heart of gold underneath all that pyrotechnic protective gear. Hannah Waddingham is brilliant as the ‘It is all for the sisterhood’ producer. The pace doesn’t let up even if it threatens to derail at times. The mystery aspect is probably the least interesting part of the film – but it is the means to a very satisfying end.

Of course, David Leitch delivers on what many people are going into the movie for – the action and the stunts. He even references his own company as being the stunt and co-ordination crew on set.

Action cinema is built on suspending disbelief. That jump? Impossible. That car roll? No way. Leitch knows how the cake is made and gives you the recipe in real time. The biggest suspension of disbelief the audience must go with is that there is a world where Aaron Taylor-Johnson is somehow more popular than Ryan Gosling.

Leitch again makes the case that there should be awards and recognition for stunt work. The Fall Guy proves he’s right. But it isn’t just the action which is the thumbs up for the film. The playful and explosive chemistry between Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt ensures you’ll fall for The Fall Guy.

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Nadine Whitney

Nadine Whitney is a seasoned film critic and scholar. Based in Melbourne, Australia, Nadine contributes regularly to FILMINK, The Curb, and Mr Movies Film Blog. She holds a degree in cinema theory and cultural studies. Her specialty is surrealism in cinema. She is as passionate about cats as she is about film. She is co-chair of the Australian Film Critics Association and a member of FIPRESCI.