‘The Fall Guy’ Isn’t a Satire of Hollywood’s Worst Instincts, It’s a Product Of Them

Its premise invites a bold send-up of Hollywood excess and self-seriousness. But 'The Fall Guy' has neither the wit nor the gumption to follow through.

Ryan Gosling in The Fall Guy. Universal Pictures

Congratulations. Regardless of how intelligent you may be, you are far smarter than The Fall Guy thinks you are. The latest jacked up, action extravaganza from stunt man turned director David Leitch (his last film, the not-very-good Bullet Train, is still leagues ahead of this movie in terms of imagination and execution), teems with contempt for the audience it is desperate to win over.  

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THE FALL GUY (1/4 stars)
Directed by: David Leitch
Written by: Drew Pearce
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emily Blunt, Winston Duke, Hannah Waddingham, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Stephanie Hsu 
Running time: 126 mins.


For starters, Leitch and screenwriter Drew Pearce (they teamed previously on the inexorable Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw) believe that their audience would prefer to hunt Easter eggs from The Six Million Dollar Man and Miami Vice than to be told a compelling or logical story. They further believe that the typical modern day action movie fan requires everything be told to them in dull, exposition-laden dialogue. And for those in the back who can’t keep up, the filmmakers repeat elements ad nauseam—from tired, would-be jokes to songs from its bombastic, cliched soundtrack. (If I never hear Kiss’ “I Was Made for Lovin’ You,” again it will be too soon.)

An attempt to update the early ’80s, Lee Majors-starring action drama that ran for 5 seasons on ABC, the film follows Ryan Gosling’s Colt Seavers, the go-to stunt man for petulant movie star Tom Ryder (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and former boyfriend of up-and-coming director Jody Moreno (Emily Blunt, who like most involved with this picture, should have known better). 

Emily Blunt and Ryan Gosling in The Fall Guy. Universal Pictures

On the TV show, plots were driven by Colt’s side hustle as a bounty hunter. (Jody was a fellow stunt person played by Heather Thomas, and both she and Majors make wan, predictable cameos.) Here, Colt is summoned under false pretenses to the Australian set of Metal Storm, an epic cowboy sci-fi directed by the still smitten Jody, and tasked with tracking down the wayward Tom by hard charging producer Gail (Hannah Waddingham).

While it’s a set-up that invites bold satirization of Hollywood excess and self-seriousness—Cody has to handle himself in a sword fight armed only with Tom’s Golden Globe award—The Fall Guy has neither the wit nor gumption to gum the hand that feeds it, much less bite it. 

Rather than indict Hollywood’s worst instincts, the film instead echoes them. The action we see Jody undertake as a director is hashing out her relationship grievances with Cole over megaphone in front of her crew. We later discover that her favorite movies are Notting Hill and Love, Actually, though she likes them less since her breakup with Cole. If The Fall Guy reflects how Hollywood views women directors, it’s little surprise there are so few of them. 

Waddington’s producer gets off no better: Gail is equal parts conniving, impetuous, controlling, and inept. When she walks into Jody’s trailer, which had been trashed by an unexpected visit from Cole, she mutters, “It’s like Amber and Johnny were just in here.” It is a cruel and tasteless joke that is already rightfully getting called out; that the people behind The Fall Guy found spousal abuse allegations fodder for humor in the first place, shows the film’s misogyny is as deep as its characterizations are shallow.   

To that end, Gosling finds little to grab a hold of as Cole. He is a lead character bereft of qualities or passions, one who we are told has strong relationships (with Jody and Winston Duke’s stunt coordinator Dan) but like everything else in the exposition-laden film, we see little evidence of them on screen beyond words. Gosling still authors twinkling moments of the movie star comedy at which he is so adept—a languid double take here, a smiling shrug there—but they are buried under frenetic and unfocused action and a bloated editing style that gives us too much at once.

Leitch calls the film a love letter to stunt performers. We are told repeatedly that they are the “unsung heroes” of the movies. Once again, it is a sentiment that overstated but never actually demonstrated. 

How does Cole prepare or train for this treacherous work? Why is he so good at it? This movie that purports to love stunt performers couldn’t seem to care less. But then it is hard to imagine that a film as mean-spirited and ungenerous as this one would be capable of that level of affection.      

 

‘The Fall Guy’ Isn’t a Satire of Hollywood’s Worst Instincts, It’s a Product Of Them