The Fall Guy review – Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt dazzle in delightful action comedy

<span>Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt in The Fall Guy.</span><span>Photograph: SXSW</span>
Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt in The Fall Guy.Photograph: SXSW

Before The Fall Guy even premiered at the SXSW film festival on Tuesday, there were boos in the audience – not for the film or stars Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt, all staggeringly delightful, but for a preview of the festival’s tech conference, touting the promise of AI as a “great equalizer” that makes us “more human”. (Lol.) How funny, and unintentionally pointed, for such a statement to air before a film that serves as a joyful testament to the people who make movies, and particularly the tricky, bombastic art of human stunts. Even funnier that The Fall Guy, written by Drew Pearce and directed by Bullet Train’s David Leitch, itself takes some swings at AI in the script; it’s not really a spoiler to say that its deepfakes aren’t being used for good.

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The Fall Guy, based on the 80s TV series, is an utterly charming, unpretentious rebuttal to the encroachment of digital effects in life and film (all due respect to VFX artists). It’s a celebration of blockbuster movies and their illusions of grandeur made by dozens and dozens of people working in concert, mostly below the line, and specifically the underappreciated work of stunt doubles. It’s also just a consistently good time, two hours of zingers with impeccable timing, two bona fide movie stars with palpable chemistry, several enjoyably meta send-ups of the business and, of course, plenty of crazy stunts.

Gosling, newly minted Oscars pop star and certified charm machine, is in peak comedy leading man form as Colt Seavers, a movie stunt veteran sidelined by an on-set injury that derailed his confidence. Jaded and hiding out in LA as a valet for a Mexican restaurant, Colt is reluctantly called back into action by big-time producer Gail (Hannah Waddingham) for the beleaguered Australian shoot of Metalstorm, a Comic-Con aiming sci-fi flick. The promise, and the problem, is that Metalstorm is directed by Jody (Blunt), the woman Colt loves and whom he shame-ghosted after his injury, leaving her hurt, confused and bitter.

The secondary problem is that Jody’s star and Colt’s longtime double, global action hero Tom Ryder (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), is suspiciously missing, threatening the studio to pull the plug on her debut film and lifelong dream. In an attempt to save her film, Colt searches for him in Sydney and, lo and behold, finds his stunt work transcending the boundaries of set as shady characters and intrigue abound. In other words, the action figure version of Ken.

Leitch, a stuntman for over 20 years (at one point doubling for Brad Pitt) guides the film with a clear affection for movie sets and expertise in the trade. The Fall Guy offers an enjoyable exhibit of the stunt staples: pyrotechnics, rigging, trained dogs, car chases, car crashes, dummy weapons, fight choreography and more, all seamlessly blended into the fun-dumb story or Metalstorm, a loving parody of Cowboys & Aliens and Dune. It’s both a celebration and send-up of movie-set tropes: the overweening, self-serving producer in Gail, the feckless movie star in Tom Ryder, the lovably competent stunt coordinator in Dan (Winston Duke), the scheming, tread-upon assistant in Alma Milan (Stephanie Hsu). Also, the use of split screens, story structure, Tom Cruise, even the fact that there still isn’t an Oscars category for best stunt work. (Perhaps one would honor Fall Guy stuntman Logan Holiday, who broke a Guinness World Record for number of cannon rolls in a car – 8.5 – while filming.)

It’s all a fizzy, funny, convincingly romantic delight, a tribute to the craft of making big movies with big stunts that is heartfelt in its appreciation without taking itself too seriously. As such, the mystery plot is thin and borderline outlandish even for this level of silly, used more as a pretext for a final act stunt bonanza that’s a chef’s kiss on the under-sung heroics of the job. Still, Leitch has accomplished something rare in the realm of studio blockbusters: a big-budget film that caters, but does not pander, to its audience, that bets long on human labor, that leans into tongue-in-cheek humor without feeling sycophantic. (It helps that Gosling is surpassing Kenergy levels of comic precision.) The Fall Guy capably celebrates the sometimes literal heights reached on the big screen in the name of mass entertainment, and is right up there with the best of them.

  • The Fall Guy is showing at the SXSW festival and will be released in cinemas on 2 May