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Film review: The action-filled film ‘The Fall Guy’ serves as an homage to Hollywood stunt work

Ryan Gosling stars as stuntman Colt Seavers in “The Fall Guy.” Directed by David Leitch, the action-packed romance premiered in theaters Friday. (Courtesy of Eric Laciste / Universal Pictures)

“The Fall Guy”

Directed by David Leitch

Universal Pictures

May 3

By Gavin Meichelbock

May 3, 2024 12:35 p.m.

This post was updated May 17 at 2:46 p.m.

“The Fall Guy” is an all-out, action-packed romantic comedy that doesn’t jump the shark.

Directed by David Leitch and released in theaters Friday, “The Fall Guy” is not only a love letter to classic Hollywood stunt work, but to lifelong movie fans as well. When ex-stuntman Colt Seavers (Ryan Gosling) is forced into retirement after a backbreaking incident on set, he loses the love of his life, director Jody Moreno (Emily Blunt). He is then given a chance to rekindle their love after being hired to work on her new movie, but ultimately gets tied up with the nefarious forces linked to the disappearance of Jody’s leading man, Tom Ryder (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Thanks to its meta-level understanding and love of cinema, “The Fall Guy” is a laugh-out-loud, nonstop rollercoaster of a film that knows exactly who its audience is.

[Related: Film Review: Dev Patel’s ‘Monkey Man’ blends stunning style with core action]

In the industry’s current age of cameos and nostalgia, pop culture references can often feel forced and distract from the story at hand. However, due to the self-aware nature of the film, the plethora of included references enhances the experience of “The Fall Guy.” The movie’s opening sequence with stunt footage from the modern action flicks “Atomic Blonde” and “Nobody” does not play as a forced commercial for other films the director has worked on, but instead is used to show the audience how physically demanding the job of stunt performers is.

Similarly, these timeless references are also used to build jokes and character. For instance, there is a recurring reference to “Dune” that evokes audible laughter because of how well it is executed. Rather than taking a cheap jab at three-hour “Oscar-bait” sci-fi films or the infamous “Dune: Part Two” popcorn bucket, it instead takes a musical cue from the film’s score that only fans of the franchise would catch and find funny. Colt’s friend, Dan Tucker (Winston Duke), is always quoting films such as “The Last of the Mohicans” and “Rocky” in a way that makes sense in their respective scenes and adds to the banter between him and Colt Seavers. Likewise, the inclusion of a stunt dog who only takes commands in French, named after action star Jean-Claude Van Damme, is a drop-in-the-bucket reference that is humorous while never overstated.

Another important detail is how authentic the scenes revolving around the making of Jody’s film feel due to the inclusion of minute details. In one scene, Colt has to get his face scanned to create a digital double, which is a real technique dominating the modern visual effects industry. Jody’s stress over creating the perfect shot to show off at not just San Diego Comic-Con, but specifically the premier viewing auditorium, Hall H, brilliantly communicates how important her shot is. Showing the extras growing tired from standing around in thick rubber alien costumes is also a hilarious inclusion. Since “The Fall Guy” is a heartfelt homage to film stunts, using Jody’s film to showcase the intense planning that goes into making a stunt and the importance of doing it correctly is ingeniously meta.

The film specifically draws attention to the jaw-dropping cannon roll Colt accomplishes, rolling the car eight and a half times. The characters celebrate this achievement because it is not just an important shot in Jody’s film, but also a record-breaking stunt in real life. This is a subtle tip of the hat to one of the first premier action franchises and the previous record holder, “James Bond,” serving as a great way to highlight this groundbreaking stunt. The self-referential aspect of the film even manages to embed itself into the plot, which masters a phenomenally funny yet subtle commentary on the industry.

[Related: Film review: Heady tennis romance ‘Challengers’ aces action-packed melodrama]

Since this is a David Leitch film, every bit of action is impressive. “The Fall Guy” does not have simple action beats, but employs set pieces that use every action trope in the book. This film features cars and boats doing death-defying jumps, heart-pounding chase scenes, attack dogs, helicopters, hand-to-hand combat and loads more exhilarating feats. Every trope is executed expertly and gives each action set piece its own distinct flair that viewers will remember long after they leave the theater.

With all of that said, there are a few disclaimers to be noted about the film – viewers expecting a love story comparable to Gosling’s “The Notebook” between Colt and Jody will not find that here. There is no nuance or subtlety in this romance, as the two characters communicate their relationship issues and reservations either directly or through incredibly obvious innuendos. While this does create some funny moments, it does not make for a compelling or memorable love story.

Additionally, the metaness of the film could be alienating to average filmgoers. For example, Duke’s frequent movie quotes could be seen as annoying nostalgia bait. The emphasis on how important and demanding stunt work is might not matter to viewers who only know that Tom Cruise has been throwing himself off buildings for decades. Also, the meta-commentary that elevates “The Fall Guy” beyond just being another action film might go over their heads, making it comparable to any other blockbuster.

“The Fall Guy” is a fun and funny meta rollercoaster of a film that movie fans will eat up like popcorn.

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Gavin Meichelbock
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