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The Fall Guy

With the notable exception of “Barbie,” the modern blockbuster can be pretty serious stuff. Whether it’s the dense lore and world-building of “Dune” or “Avatar: The Way of Water,” or the self-serious connected universe of the MCU, blockbusters have often felt like work lately too. This is not to say that some of these films aren’t masterful, only that there’s been a dearth of old-fashioned entertainment, the kind of Hollywood productions designed to entertain above all else. A movie where you don't need to take notes or have seen the ones that came before it. “The Fall Guy” wants to entertain you. It wants to put the blinding star power of two of the industry’s most charismatic leads in fun, romantic situations and see what happens. It wants to remind viewers of a time when stunt work mattered more than it does in the CGI era, and embrace the team aspect of filmmaking in a manner that’s infectious and, well, wildly entertaining. This is a ridiculously fun movie, anchored by a movie star in a part that fits him perfectly and a director who really has been working toward this film for his entire career.

David Leitch started as a stunt double, working with actors like Brad Pitt, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Matt Damon, and many more. His directorial debut was a little film called “John Wick,” and he parlayed that success into films like “Atomic Blonde” and “Bullet Train.” He returns to his roots in “The Fall Guy,” inspired by the Lee Majors show of the same name about a Hollywood stuntman who happened to also be a bounty hunter. Little narrative DNA is shared with the show beyond a profession and a name, but the 2024 “The Fall Guy” does have the general tone of ‘80s television in the way it blends a bit of humor, romance, mystery, and action into the mix, willing to drop references to the action stars that inspired it while also carving out its own personality.

Ryan Gosling is ridiculously charismatic as the new Colt Seavers, giving one of those broadly magnetic performances that made him so likable in films like “The Nice Guys” but also leaning on some acting chops and intensity that should remind fans of his iconic turn in “Drive.” “The Fall Guy” is very much about the people behind the scenes of the movie industry, but it’s almost more of an ode to the era of the movie star, when a performer could hold a viewer over any narrative speedbump. Mostly for the better, Hollywood shifted to a story-and concept-driven approach to moviemaking, but Leitch and the team behind “The Fall Guy” clearly remember when a superstar who was both sexy and funny—think Burt Reynolds at his peak—could be more than enough. Gosling has that easy-going charm. When he was singing “I’m Just Ken” at the Oscars, the man next to me at the bar at which I was watching it at SXSW, said, “I’m almost annoyed at how that guy can do anything.” “The Fall Guy” proves again the last five words of that statement true.

Colt is introduced on set as the double to a diva action star named Tom Ryder (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, doing enough of a blend between Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, and even Matthew McConaughey that he seems right without ever feeling like he’s specifically ripping on one actor). When a fall goes horribly wrong, Colt is sidelined for 18 months, leaving behind his girlfriend Jody (Emily Blunt) and maybe the industry for good. When Jody’s producer Gail (Hannah Waddingham) comes to Colt to beg him to double Ryder again on the set of Jody’s directorial debut, Colt relents. The first act of “The Fall Guy” basically plays like a romantic comedy as Jody berates Colt for running from their relationship after his accident in a great scene in front of a lot of cast and crew—it feels like a reminder of how little privacy there is on a movie set—and then the script by Drew Pearce pivots into mystery and action when Ryder goes missing. Winston Duke, Stephanie Hsu, Teresa Palmer, and a French-speaking action dog round out a great cast. More needle drops from the era of the show, including recurring use of the very recognizable riff of “I Was Made for Lovin’ You” by KISS, feel like a nod to both the era of the original series and when they made more action-rom-coms like this in Hollywood.

A theme of “The Fall Guy” is how stunt people have to put their life at risk, narrowly avoid injury, and, hopefully, give a thumbs up as a sign that they’re okay. They are people who never get credit but have made so many classic films what they are in our collective memory. So, naturally, “The Fall Guy” has to include some insane stunt work, including a record-breaking cannon roll stunt, an incredible fight in a spinning dumpster, and more than one massive vehicle jump. Leitch and his team find a great balance between character, comedy, and action, although it is worth noting that Blunt kind of takes a back seat in the second half of the film, which is disappointing after the pair’s excellent chemistry in the first. Hsu also feels a little wasted, although Waddingham and Duke get to have some fun, especially the latter, who gets to remind viewers that he too can do a little bit of everything.

With a message that should resonate with anyone worried about AI and deep fakes, “The Fall Guy” feels like a pushback against all the CGI-heavy, character-less, humorless blockbusters that have been coming off the content production line over the last few years. It’s actively—and its detractors would likely argue too aggressively—trying to simply provide ticket buyers with what too often feels like a secondary concern in big movies lately: fun.

This review was filed from the world premiere at the SXSW Film Festival. It will be released on April 24th.

Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico is the Managing Editor of RogerEbert.com, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also a writer for Vulture, The Playlist, The New York Times, and GQ, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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Film Credits

The Fall Guy movie poster

The Fall Guy (2024)

Rated PG-13

126 minutes

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