Wait! Gosling & Blunt Star in Their Own Movie? What? It’s ‘The Fall Guy’

In the 1980s, ABC-TV featured a weekly series starring Lee Majors as “The Fall Guy.” He’s a stuntman who makes extra money as a bounty hunter, aided in large part by his stunt driving skills. Universal Pictures’ latest release, The Fall Guy, is said to be based on the old show. Sure, okay, but don’t think for a flash-second you need to be over 45 to enjoy this new action flick. In fact, you might enjoy it more without those memories.

Keep It Simple, Right?

Stuntman Ryan Gosling (La La Land, Barbie) is in love with assistant film director Emily Blunt (A Quiet Place, Oppenheimer). But when reshooting an action scene led by legendary producer Hannah Waddingham (Ted Lasso), Gosling breaks his back. Seemingly more demoralized than injured, he loses his cool and winds up as a car valet for a large Hollywood restaurant. Eighteen months later, out of the blue, he gets an urgent call to fill in as a stuntman in a new action film, one that now has Blunt serving as the lead director. The opportunity seems “sus” to Gosling, but he arrives overnight on set in Sydney, Australia, to find much of his old crew and long-lost friends, including Blunt, working on the film. None are as surprised as she is to see Gosling, her forlorn lover, working again. That’s the premise—or “setup”—of The Fall Guy, directed by David Leitch (Bullet Train) released this week. But, here, it’s all, indeed, a setup. After all, a “fall guy” means something other than a cute name for a stuntman.

On the set of MetalStorm, a “space opera” in which cowboys take on aliens, things just aren’t as they seem. The replacement stuntman for the star actor, Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick-Ass, Bullet Train), for whom Gosling had stunt-doubled more than 18 times before his injury, has gone missing in Sydney. Producer Waddingham is freaking out about Blunt filming the “third act.” Everything is a mess on set. The budget has been blown, time is slipping quickly, and there are only so many explosives remaining for the all-important special effects finale, which itself is in jeopardy of a total rewrite. Although she never expected Gosling to return, Blunt needs his help in so many ways. And now, Gosling has a chance to win her back.

It’s All So Meta

At no point in shooting this film within a film does the audience know the storyline. Newly arrived, Gosling is just as clueless. No matter. The Fall Guy is all about finding that missing stuntman, a mystery Gosling takes sole authority to uncover. Which leads him into the underbelly of Sydney’s sinister nightclubs. Which precipitates a lot of fights, with film props like swords and trophies and rocket launchers. Which necessitates a lot of quick escapes whether by muscle car, garbage truck, or sleek harbor craft. Which, of course, calls for a lot of stunt action. Which begs for a lot of on-screen physical talent. (Although the credits rolled too quickly for an accurate count, I came up with more than 75 film artists who risked some sort of limb, groin or neck in filming The Fall Guy.) So, yes, the film is about a stuntman whose expert stunts help him track down a stuntman. And, in the process, he risks taking a fall for a film he insists won’t fail if he can survive the filming.  

A Movie That Moves

But The Fall Guy goes deeper than that. Not a whole lot, mind you. But there’s significant dialogue about camera angles, and editing, and foreshadowing, and character development, all of which are treated with visual aplomb. It’s fun, intriguing, and perhaps clever, but no deeper than what bright filmgoers might see for themselves. It ain’t Shakespeare or M. Night Shyamalan, but it sure is pleasurable.

And despite the apparent on-screen budgetary issues in completing the film within the film, nothing is short-sheeted here. Much of the film is shot in Sydney Harbor. The expense alone of shutting down bridges and waterways, not to mention the cost of the vehicles and speedboats and helicopters employed, seems staggeringly excessive. And the riches don’t just flow into creating the many sets required for a fast-paced action film; they also allow for a full story with twists and turns, a few red herrings, and a whole lot more. If you’re a fan of Bullet Train, director Leitch’s most recent success, or the John Wick series (three installments of which Leitch executive-produced), you’ve learned to expect that the ultimate showdown between hero and villain is never quite over. And then, when it is over, well … it’s not. In fact, fair warning, older audience members are advised to hang around for the mid-credit scenario. And, perhaps not worthy of comment, The Fall Guy is yet another film in which the director and star actor welcome the audience to their big-screen adventure. I don’t get it. At AMC’s Waterfront 22, we’ve already sat through a good half-hour of previews anyhow.

Casting the Film Crew

Ryan Gosling signed on to do The Fall Guy in 2020, that is, before filming his epic turn as Ken in Barbie. Yet, here he comes off delivering his character like Ryan Reynolds in Deadpool. An extroverted smart alec, he seems not quite aware of the trouble he should know he’s in. Emily Blunt is, in equal measure, introverted, pondering her path to fame and fortune, despite the fact that her producer is a massive pain in the ass to getting there. And, as that producer, Hannah Waddingham is more often over the top than downright funny. This is to say, there is little to find that isn’t tongue-in-cheek in The Fall Guy

Here’s two hours of filmed fun poking holes in how films are thought to be made, all shot in the context of shooting an action film which requires a whole lot more action than any film should afford. And then it’s over. Or is it?

C. Prentiss Orr is a Pittsburgh-based writer who covers film, live theater, and other topics for Entertainment Central. He is the author of the books The Surveyor and the Silversmith and Pittsburgh Born, Pittsburgh Bred.

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