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Gosling's thousand-megawatt movie-star smile not enough to stick The Fall Guy's landing

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Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures


Based on the popular 1980s television show with Lee Majors, Douglas Barr, and Heather Thomas, The Fall Guy is director David Leitch and screenwriter Drew Pearce's rambunctious celebration of the stuntmen (and women) who have made action pictures memorable since the cinematic medium was invented over a century ago. Starring Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt, the film is an over-the-top explosion of comedy, romance, and, of course, crackerjack action choreography. It's also frustratingly forgettable.

After a devastating back injury derailed his career, legendary Hollywood stuntman Colt Seavers (Gosling) is called back into service by producer Gail Meyer (Hannah Waddingham) to once again double for international movie star Tom Ryder (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). The film's Australian production is in trouble, and Gail needs someone to step in and help them finish the shoot. Besides, it's the directorial debut of Colt's former girlfriend, Jody Moreno (Blunt) — whom everyone, everywhere knows he still loves, which should be more than enough incentive to get Colt back in the death-defying game.

But that's not why Gail wants Colt. Tom's gone missing, and if he does not return to set soon, the studio may throw the film in the trashcan as a tax write-off. She believes the stuntman can find her missing star. Having been his double on multiple pictures, Colt knows Tom's behavior patterns as if they were his own, so if anyone is going to save the day and ensure that Jody's magnum opus gets finished, it's going to be him.

The opening third of Leitch's latest larger-than-life spectacle is magnificent. This includes both the prologue depicting Colt's injury as well as his first day on the set in Australia doing barrel rolls on the beach and getting set on fire over multiple takes with an angry Jody (the pair haven't spoken in over a year). Gosling and Blunt banter with sizzling electricity. The comedic bits are dynamite. The action is out of this world. It's special stuff.

Then the plot kicks in, and suddenly The Fall Guy loses a ton of momentum. Talented supporting players like Stephanie Hsu, Winston Duke, Teresa Palmer, and Ben Knight are wasted. The romantic heat between Gosling and Blunt is stupefyingly put on the back burner to simmer. The action set pieces, while admittedly exciting, are haphazardly edited and intercut with sequences of intrusive comedy and halfhearted melodrama that fail to make a lasting impression.

The thing that drove me craziest was how Leitch refused to let the story breathe. It is as if he can't help but call attention to every beat, every gag, and every emotional button that's being pushed. He never lets events play out without trying to call attention to them in some noticeable and obnoxious way. A joke can't exist on its own. Instead, someone has to comment on it. A spectacular bit of athletic majesty doesn't happen unless another character can shout some variation of "wow!" or onlookers can look on in a wide-eyed shock that only exists in a Mel Brooks farce or Hot Shots!-style parody. It's like something out of a cartoon, and not a very good one at that.

This is a shame, as Gosling is in full movie-star mode as Colt. The three-time Academy Award nominee is having a blast. He saunters and shimmies with so much moxie, so much unfiltered charisma that his sweaty sexiness is combustible. While far from Gosling's best performance, this does not make it any less extraordinary. There were moments when I could feel my breath stop cold as I watched him channel his inner Buster Keaton meets Jackie Chan meets Tom Cruise, and all it took was a crooked, smoldering smile for me to feel myself melting into my theater seat in intoxicated euphoria.

That goes double whenever Gosling and Blunt are allowed the freedom to fully engage in their irresistible verbal patter. They clearly enjoy working with one another; even better, their mutual affection is infectious. If Leitch weren't so insistent on utilizing such a brusque, suffocatingly pugilistic directorial style, Gosling and Blunt would achieve an old-school Hollywood elegance akin to that found by Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint in North by Northwest or Richard Gere and Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. They get tantalizingly close, but sadly that's just not the case.

As this is a celebration of the stunt profession, there are some stunning action sequences. Leitch knows how to showcase his crackerjack stunt team in their best possible light, so the biggest practical moments are undeniably something special. That aforementioned barrel roll Colt is tasked to accomplish when he first arrives on Jody's set is magnificent, while another car stunt during the climax beats anything we've seen out of the last three Fast and Furious entries combined.

I wish all of it meant something lasting. Mind you, I didn't hate The Fall Guy. Gosling and Blunt are too good, Waddingham too dang hilarious, and the action choreography frequently far too astonishing to easily ignore. But Leitch's handling of the human and emotional facets left me cold. I never cared as much as I wanted to, and my emotional connection to the characters or the messed-up Hollywood insider mystery they were a part of was practically zilch. That's a problem, and it's one too big for even Gosling's thousand-megawatt smile to overcome.