Sunday, June 09, 2024



I wish I could say I liked The Fall Guy, directed by David Leitch, better than I actually did, because coming to it relatively late (it's been hanging on in theaters for about a month now and is already available at home on video-on-demand services) I was rooting for it for reasons based almost solely on it being one of the two pictures leading into the summer movie season that have themselves been designated fall guys emblematic of the so-far disastrous Hollywood money-making year. But instead of being engaged on a big-budget action-movie level (the way, say, Bullet Train, also directed by Leitch, or the John Wick series, which was directed by Leitch's associate at 87 North Productions, Chad Stahelski, most definitely were), the movie's eagerness to please the crowd left me at a distance; its 126 minutes passed by me with only the occasional ripple of genuine amusement, the way an episode of the TV show The Fall Guy might have, had I ever watched a single episode.

Leitch and company have designed The Fall Guy, all about a top-level stuntman (Ryan Gosling) trying to rekindle a romance with his latest movie's director (Emily Blunt) while trying to stay alive on the job and solve a mystery involving the obnoxious movie star (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, obviously modeled on Tom Cruise) for whom he serves as a stunt double, as a tribute to the Hollywood community of stunt performers. These folks, whom Leitch and company repeatedly point out take their lives in their hands for their craft, have been largely overlooked (at least as far as awards are concerned) when credit is doled out for the effectiveness of these sorts of movies, and other genres where stunt work might be slightly more invisible, or at least low-key. The possibility of a new Oscar category for stunt coordination and performances has been gaining momentum and may well become a reality by the time nominations are handed out in February 2025 for the beleaguered year through which the American moviegoing audience is now living.

The irony is, if such an award materializes, The Fall Guy would not, in any likely sense, be the top contender, or at least the most deserving of that recognition. No, The Fall Guy's partner in scapegoating for Hollywood's current dire straits, Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga, would be the more obvious choice here, George Miller's film having far better realized how to create, integrate and execute A-level stunt work with a story for which that work feels organic, essential. The Fall Guy, on the other hand, is impressive on the execution level, but it's story is TV-level; it feels like an afterthought, a way to stitch all this impressive effort and talent into something resembling a coherent narrative.

Leitch, as director and (presumably) overseer of the film's team of editors, headed by Elisabet Ronaldsdottir, even undercuts his own action, interrupting the momentum of several big stunt set pieces with expository scenes which deflate any rhythm and thrust that would have naturally have built, had the scenes been allowed to play as complete sequences. (Imagine if Miller had stopped one of the big scenes involving the War Rig's assault on Gastown to show Immortan Joe back at the Citadel growling in worry or anger about whether or not the truck had arrived yet. Or if Staheleski had repeatedly interrupted John Wick's agonizing battle on the 222 steps leading up to the Sacre-Coeur Basilica so we could get glimpses of Ian McShane and Clancy Brown checking their watches and wondering whether Wick was gonna make it in time.)

I understand why people like The Fall Guy;  it pushes a lot of the right buttons, and the audience I saw it with had a good time with it, yet it's not nearly so clever as its lighthearted movie-star badinage would seem to indicate it thinks it is. And in trying so hard to highlight the stunt performers, who it correctly asserts don't get the sort of credit they deserve, and embarrass the Hollywood awards community into their own sort of action, Leitch's movie undercuts its own argument by not providing a solid movie in the great narrative tradition of the well-told blockbusters of old (and the more recent) to back that argument up. As paeans to the pluck, determination and talent of stunt movie performers and crews, at least The Fall Guy (2024) is no The Fall Guy (1981-1986). But in order to really bolster its own tribute to the dangers of being a great stunt man, it would have been helpful to have something else going on beside (or even in addition to) the paper-thin romance that props this new movie up. Maybe if Leitch had tapped more from The Stunt Man (1980; Richard Rush) than Hooper  (1978; Hal Needham), we'd be talking about a new classic instead of another big, middle-of-the-road action movie taking the fall for its studio's lack of faith and its director not being able to keep his eye entirely off the prize.


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