Movie Review – Fall Guy, The (Extended Edition)

Principal Cast : Ryan Gosling, Emily Blunt, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Hannah Waddingham, Teresa Palmer, Stephanie Hsu, Winston Duke, Ben Knight.
Synopsis: A down-and-out stuntman must find the missing star of his ex-girlfriend’s blockbuster film.

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What do you get when you get one of the film industry’s preeminent stunt directors-turned-moviemaker, two of Hollywood’s hottest talents, and a fun, zippy modern update of a classic 80’s Glen A Larson-created television series? You get The Fall Guy, a bonkers and brilliantly fun exercise in comedic action, as well as a love-letter to the until-relatively-recently underappreciated stunt community working on every Hollywood film you see. Yes, you can cue up every argument you like for the Academy’s inevitable inclusion of stunt achievement for the Oscars at some point, because not only is Hollywood starting to recognize this facet of filmmaking but a large segment of the film-loving community are also caterwauling for the Oscar’s to finally acknowledge this skill as an essential piece of the pie. After all, if costume design and makeup can snag an Oscar, why not the folks who put themselves in harms way to bring us our entertainment?

Okay, so endless thinkpieces have been written about stunts and their place in movie history, but how does that affect The Fall Guy? The film’s story follows Colt Seavers (Ryan Gosling), a seasoned Hollywood stuntman whose career is on the decline. When he takes on a new job as a stunt double for a popular movie star (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), things take an unexpected turn when the star goes missing. Seavers is thrust into the role of an unlikely hero, using his stunt skills and Hollywood know-how to uncover a dangerous conspiracy behind the actor’s disappearance. Along the way, he teams up with his ex-girlfriend and production assistant Jody (Emily Blunt) to navigate a series of high-octane action sequences and comedic mishaps. As they delve deeper, Seavers must confront old wounds and prove that even a fall guy can rise to the occasion. Yep, it’s a film involving, about, and focused on, massive stunts.

In a previous life, director David Leitch was once a stunt coordinator and double on projects for the likes of Jean Claude Van Damme, Brad Pitt, and the Bourse franchise, before he broke into helming films after co-directing John Wick with fellow former stuntman-turned-director Chad Stahelski. Since the original Wick, Leitch has gone on to make Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2, and Bullet Train, all of which carry his signature style highlighting some of the screen’s most bombastic and effective action sequences. With The Fall Guy, Leitch has a significantly larger budget than he’s ever had, and two infinitely watchable stars at the center of this idealised love-letter to the stunt community that feels like it was created just for them. Ryan Gosling, white hot following his Barbie success, and Emily Blunt, whose work on Oppenheimer rightfully earned her an Oscar nomination, are a perfect screen pairing both at a dramatic level but also at a comedic one. Gosling has carved something of a secondary career in the smile-and-wink subgenre, having worked with the likes of Steve Carrell (Crazy Stupid Love), Adam McKay (The Big Short) and Shane Black (The Nice Guys) to produce incredibly funny turns to contrast against his dramatic projects. Blunt, while a decidedly more serious actor in most of her work, understands comic timing (her breakout turn in The Devil Wears Prada is indicative of this) and goes full-throttle with Gosling as the mismatched pair of lovers finding their groove in this romantic whirlwind adventure.

As part of this review, the version of The Fall Guy I watched is the extended version of the film, available on Prime (as of this review) and running some twenty minutes longer than the original theatrical version. I don’t think this makes for a better film experience, by the way, because the Extended Version of The Fall Guy well and truly outstays its welcome by the 120-minute mark for sure, and several of the changes include different voice-overs, expanded “comedy” that isn’t as funny as it thinks, and some subtle character arc work. This isn’t to say the film isn’t still a lot of fun, but the argument about a “tight ninety” comedy is strong in light of this relatively bloated, kitchen sink edition of the film. Although it might feel appealing to spend more time with Gosling and Blunt together, I don’t think the extra time was actually worth it. It just goes to show that the old “deleted scenes” menus on DVD is still a valid option; The Fall Guy’s extended editing runtime actually becomes quite tedious.

The fact remains, however, that the Gosling/Blunt screen partnership is worth every penny of their no-doubt top-line asking price. Their banter is delightful, from the convoluted but knowing screenplay by Drew Pearce, and both actors get the tone and style of the film they’re in and just make it work. The highly stylised fantasy elements of moviemaking look great on the screen, very much a “fly on the wall” behind the scenes appeal going on here that fans of cinema will appreciate, while general audiences will lap it up. The action is bombastic as you might expect, from the “in film” stunts going into making “Metalstorm” to the film’s “real world” stunts depicted by Gosling, with explosions, gunfire, fistfights and pratfalls occasioning every spare second of the screen when Gosling isn’t just chewing the scenery. There’s a really polished wit to the whole thing, even Hannah Waddingham’s awful film producer trope manages to be something of a highlight despite being an atrociously performed role. Unfortunately, solid talent like Teresa Palmer and Stephanie Hsu are largely ornamental to the movie, with Palmer in particular buried beneath some unsettling makeup and costuming. For me, the film’s MVP in the ensemble is Winston Duke, better known for his breakout turn as M’buku in Black Panther. As the eponymous 1st AD on Jody’s film set he has some of the best non-sequiturs and one-liners.

One of the best and worst things about The Fall Guy is, however, the rather pointed depiction of Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s arrogant and self-involved film star character, Tom Ryder. It’s close to a full faced jab at Tom Cruise, a man noted for doing a lot of his own expensive, dangerous stunts, for reasons I’m not entirely sure, but the crazy-loony take by Taylor Johnson is both hilarious and grating. And while this shade-throw at Cruise might be amusing initially, the role’s hideously uncharismatic ranting and bile-fuelled vitriol wears out quite quickly; Taylor-Johnson gives it his all, and perhaps that’s the problem I had with the film’s weakest element – the antagonists (there’s more than one) feel like they belong in a different movie, and clash wildly in tone with the Gosling/Blunt material. It should be noted that Gosling spends more time shouldering this film than Blunt does, which is annoying, because when both of them are together on the screen and having their little bickering tete-a-tete’s, The Fall Guy absolutely fires on all cylinders. When it’s just Gosling tucking into the plot’s mystery arc, and spending time with Waddingham or the other ensemble players, the film grinds to a halt a lot of the time. It’s this uneven pacing I felt was where the Extended Version failed to maintain my interest, to be honest. I just found Taylor-Johnson’s performance too over-the-top for my liking, even understanding that this is an action comedy (with a solid focus on the comedy); think of Hugh Grant’s character in Paddington 2 turned up a thousand percent, and that’s what you get with Taylor-Johnson’s Tom Ryder. The Ryder-Cruise analogy is apparent and often forced, weakening its impact throughout the film, and I so wish they’d toned it down a little to not overwhelm the Gosling action banter.

The Fall Guy is perfectly solid entertainment that delivers two massive stars working together in what is essentially a buddy comedy where the buddies don’t pair up on-screen often enough for my liking. The film spends a lot of time with them in separate sequences, which I think ultimately does the story and the viewer a disservice. When they’re not together the plot isn’t strong enough to sustain respective solo storylines. Still, the good far outweighs the bad here, although I would thoroughly recommend new audiences to this movie stick with the original theatrical edition rather than the bells-and-whistles extended one, because it’s at least forty minutes too long for its own good and spends too much time getting in its own way. Slick, fun and energetic, with Gosling and Blunt in top-tier form, The Fall Guy is a blast.

 

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