Reviews

The Fall Guy

DIGITAL REVIEW:

Universal;
Action;
Box Office $80.29 million;

Rated ‘PG-13’ for action and violence, drug content and some strong language.
Stars Ryan Gosling, Emily Blunt, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Hannah Waddingham, Winston Duke, Teresa Palmer, Stephanie Hsu.

Director David Leitch’s The Fall Guy may just be too clever for its own good.

The movie is an adaptation of the 1980s action TV series of the same name that starred Lee Majors as a Hollywood stuntman. Leitch, himself a former stuntman who helped develop the “John Wick” franchise, has understandably used the source material as an excuse to craft his own tribute to the world of stunt performers who put their safety on the line for the sake of entertainment.

As such, the story’s peek behind the scenes of a big-budget production is almost too inside baseball at times, particularly when it comes to lengthy scenes devoted primarily to various stunts being performed.

The comedy-infused film version of The Fall Guy stars Ryan Gosling as Colt Seavers, the veteran stuntman played by Majors on the TV show, who finds himself out of the industry after breaking his back performing a seemingly routine wire-aided fall. After 18 months of recovery and lowly jobs as a parking lot valet, he gets a call from his producer pal Gail (Hannah Waddingham) to help out on a big sci-fi movie being filmed in Australia. Colt is reluctant to return to stunt work until he learns the film is the directorial debut of Jody Moreno (Emily Blunt), with whom Colt had a fling on a previous movie she was working on as a camera operator.

Jody’s still miffed at Colt for abandoning the relationship when he got injured, but it’s pretty clear they’d be willing to rekindle their romance if the circumstances align. Unfortunately, the film’s star, Tom Ryder (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) has gone missing, and if he doesn’t resurface soon the studio could shut down the whole movie. So Gail tasks Colt with tracking him down on the theory that a stuntman’s off-the-books activities won’t raise many eyebrows.

Not wanting to see his would-be-girlfriend’s directorial career evaporate before it can even begin, he sets off to track down Tom, and soon stumbles upon a mystery involving a dead body, a lost cell phone and a squad of trigger-happy goons.

The movie-within-a-movie they’re making looks like a cross between Mad Max and Dune, with a love story between a Space Cowboy and an alien princess. This not only allows Leitch and screenwriter Drew Pearce a chance to indulge their appetites for meta references to the Hollywood blockbuster machine, it also provides an obvious metaphor for Jody and Colt’s relationship.

By putting such a heavy emphasis on the film production process, the movie version of The Fall Guy ends up overlooking what the actual premise of the TV series was: Colt had a second job as a bounty hunter, and most episodes involved him tracking down criminals who skipped bail, using his vast knowledge of movie tricks and stunt experience to outsmart the bad guys.

Gosling’s Colt isn’t a bounty hunter, with the film version basically swapping out that aspect of the show for the rom-com subplot. This is reflected in the changes to the lyrics of the show’s iconic theme song, “The Unknown Stuntman,” covered by Blake Shelton for the film’s end credits. While the original song, sung by Majors himself, was about all the starlets Colt was supposedly banging behind the scenes while staying below the radar as a stuntman, the new version has been scrubbed with a political correctness filter, with the chorus heavily altered to suggest Colt’s affections for Jody alone.

In a coincidence of quirk, The Fall Guy found itself emerging from the tail end of the “Barbenheimer” phenomenon by uniting two of its key Oscar-nominated actors: Barbie’s Gosling and Oppenheimer’s Blunt. Their screen presence is enough to keep the film afloat early on despite some strained attempts at flirtatious chit chat. The film’s biggest asset is unsurprisingly its action, of which Leitch is a master. There are some well-constructed sequences and the film is mostly successful in maintaining a sense of fun, but the need to balance the love story and the mystery plot tends the drag the movie down a bit.

Aside from Colt and Jody (who borrows her first name from Heather Thomas’ stuntwoman character in the original show but otherwise has been completely reworked), no other characters from the original series made it into the adaptation.

While this might lend the appearance of the movie straying from the source material, the subplot of Colt finding himself in trouble tracking someone down is pretty much the formula of the TV series. In fact, a scene of Colt tricking the bad guys with a gun loaded with blanks is right out of the pilot episode. The film also manages to fit in the modern equivalent of Colt’s famous GMC pickup truck.

Thus, it’s a bit of a head-scratcher why the filmmakers didn’t also try to work in the series’ bounty hunter angle, which might have really solidified its appeal with the old-school fans. It would have been simple enough to explain that Colt took on bounty hunting to make money after recovering from his injury, since he didn’t want to return to the film industry. This would then have provided a more plausible reason from Colt’s perspective for Gail to ask him to track down Tom, instead of the irreverent “stuntmen are nobodies” reason the movie ended up giving us.

The digital version of The Fall Guy offers as a bonus feature an extended cut that includes an extra 20 minutes of footage. Among the added scenes is an entire chase scene, extended action sequences, additional minor characters who end up getting killed, and more improv-type banter. With the extended length, a couple sequences have also been re-edited in a more linear way, where in the theatrical cut there was some cross-cutting between past and future events as they were referenced. These sequences, particularly the opening credits, work better with the editing of the extended cut. On the whole, though, most of the added footage tends to slow down the pacing of the film and makes it more of a slog to get through.

 

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