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Ryan Gosling is stuntman Colt Seavers in “The Fall Guy,” a movie reboot of the 1980s TV show starring Lee Majors.

The Fall Guy

2 stars

Telling someone “You have nothing between your ears,” isn’t a compliment. Telling a filmmaker and screenwriter “You have nothing between the action scenes,” also isn’t a compliment. Read on…

The trailers for “The Fall Guy” look exciting and certainly the premise has great potential. The stuntman Colt Seavers (Ryan Gosling, “Barbie”) is on hiatus after a precarious fall stunt goes awry and his body and ego are injured. He’s called back into duty by the conniving producer Gail Meyer (Hannah Waddingham, “Ted Lasso”), whose leading man, Hollywood superstar and egomaniac Tom Ryder (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, “Bullet Train”), has gone missing from her new movie set.

Meyer tempts Cole back into the business by saying he’s been requested by the film’s first-time director Jody Moreno (Emily Blunt, “Oppenheimer”), who happens to be Cole’s ex-lover. The naïve stuntman is being deceived.

Before the filming of the vastly bloated sci-fi film “Metalstorm” is completed, his life will be in more jeopardy than any glorified stand-in should ever endure. Nice setup.

The potential for an awe-inspiring action/comedy/drama is immense. Movie fans who like to wallow in nostalgia will remember the 1980s TV series “The Fall Guy,” which starred Lee Majors. Action film aficionados will be tempted by some of director David Leitch’s filmography, e.g., his very accomplished and dementedly violent “Atomic Blonde” and “Bullet Train.” Or some may question his credentials, e.g., the very vapid and hollow “Deadpool 2” and “Fast & Furious Presents: Dobbs and Shaw.”

Add to the iffy factor that screenwriter Drew Pearce wrote “Dobbs and Shaw” and developed this TV-inspired premise into the movie’s script/blueprint, and this is where the weak links pile up.

The action scenes, directed by Leitch and filmed by cinematographer Jonathan Sela, are not in question—but are not out-of-this-world superb. They look very Hollywood. Not sinister, like those in “Bullet Train.” Not gorgeously and profoundly crafted like those in “John Wick Chapter 4” by the ingenious stuntman-turned-director Chad Stahelski. This film’s PG-13 rating pretty much tells you that none of the action will be particularly grotesque, violent or over the edge. Scenes with speedboat chases, car chases, Cole jumping on helicopters, daring falls, etc. are standard issue. Glamorous at times. Cheesy at times, too. In fact, one long scene with a truck speeding down streets dragging what looks like a dumpster, features Gosling fighting an assailant. Even if you were wearing sunglasses, smeared with Vaseline, you could still discern the telltale green screen effects.   

The lack of mind-blowing, innovative movement, fights and escapes puts unnecessary pressure on the plotline, which binds the action scenes together. This is where the shallow script’s weaknesses become an obvious liability. The talky, unimpressive dialogue is usually insipid and never hysterical.

Jody to the puppy-dog eyed Colt: “You are literally the last person on earth I want to see.” The romance withers and doesn’t give the two main characters a deep connection. The laughs, which are few and too subtle, don’t appear for at least 30 minutes after opening credits. Wish the wackiness of the characters was wackier.

The humor more laugh-until-you’re-hoarse hilarious. Finding the missing leading man is the one solid plot device that should provide forward momentum. But it never provides the consistent push and pull that it could.

So many elements just don’t gel, or gel enough to take your focus off the actors trying to convince you that their characters are worth the effort. Also winking, nodding and talking to the screen is a weak, strained device.

Ditto the split screen images. Even frenzied pacing (editor Elisabet Ronaldsdóttir), a bombastic musical score (Dominick Lewis) and dazzling costumes (Sarah Evelyn) can’t compensate. It’s enough to make target audiences wish they’d just strung the best, most kinetic parts of the film together, skipped the fluff and turned 122  minutes of floundering storytelling into a 90-minute movie of almost nothing but non-stop action.

Gosling took what could have been a demeaning role, Ken in “Barbie,” and turned it into the funniest male performance of 2023. He can make a comic mountain out of a molehill and turn water into wine. He is animated in this film, whiny, brave and vindictive. But this time when he puts his own spin on Cole, he’s performing without a net.

You can see the quirky tricks and ticks for what they are. His Colt Seavers façade is see-through. Blunt has her sweetness. Waddingham chews up the scenery like she’s overacting in a Broadway farce. Taylor-Johnson is smarmy enough to hate, which is a good sign. Other supporting cast members, from Stephanie Hsu as Ryder’s assistant to Winston Duke as Cole’s buddy, are fine in a production that flails.

It’s easy to want more out of a project that had so many possibilities. In the shadow of “John Wick: Chapter 4” and even “Monkey Man,” action films now must match a high standard. Even comedy action films can’t coast. And if action scenes don’t exceed expectations, what’s in-between the fights, battles and car chases has even more pressure to succeed. The script and direction fail a project that should have been more fun and almost bullet proof.
On the bright side, parents can take tweens and teens to this movie and not be worried that they’ll see something that’ll scare them for life.

Someone needed to supply a heftier story, with all the goods that would flesh out the time in between all the mayhem. Someone with something between his ears. That didn’t happen.

Visit film critic Dwight Brown at DwightBrownInk.com.

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