‘The Fall Guy’ Review: Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt Are Trapped in David Leitch’s Dull Action Comedy Misfire

Though the leads are charming and the stunts impressive, this latest from the “John Wick” director is more exhausting than exhilarating

The Fall Guy
Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt in "The Fall Guy" (Universal Pictures)

At Sunday’s Oscars, Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt took to the stage to recognize the work of stunt performers who far too often go overlooked. The duo was as delightful, roasting each other over the infamous event that was Barbenheimer while taking part in a sly promotion of their new movie “The Fall Guy.”

It was a nice moment that felt compromised by the fact that there are not any such awards for stunts, an oversight that inexplicably persists, and a general sense that this represented how these very craftspeople are taken for granted unless they can be used to spice up a star-studded vehicle. None of this is the fault of Gosling or Blunt, though there was an unshakeable sense that the moment was focusing on all the wrong things. 

This is as good a way to sum up the experience of watching “The Fall Guy” itself. The latest from director David Leitch had its world premiere Tuesday at the Paramount Theater in Austin as part of the 2024 SXSW Film & TV Festival where it lived in the shadow of the previous evening’s “Monkey Man” that blew the roof off of the venue. Where that directorial debut from Dev Patel felt fresh and alive, this one plays as a stale attempt at an action-comedy that quickly runs out of steam.

While Leitch has made great action films, like the original “John Wick” and the underrated “Atomic Blonde,” this one is closer to his boorish “Bullet Train” from 2022. In a script written by Drew Pearce, the writer behind such films as “Hotel Artemis” and “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw,” which provides a good indication of the type of story we’re dealing with, even the charisma of Gosling feels like it is being thrown out the window. While the stunts themselves are often spectacular, they are in service of little. Even when the movie acknowledges that stunt performers deserve awards it doesn’t set them up for such success. 

The story follows stuntman Colt (Gosling), who has stepped away from the job after a major accident leaves him seriously hurt. However, he gets lured back to the industry when the massive sci-fi production his ex, Jody (Blunt), is leading is now without its main actor who is missing under what seem to be suspicious circumstances. What is Colt going to do? Well, he’ll have to try to track the star down while, at the same time, continuing work on the film in the hopes of rekindling his romance with Jody after not speaking to her for more than a year.

Very loosely based on the 1980s series, the film plays out over the course of nearly two hours without any fun, getting buried under empty gag after empty gag as it feels more like we ourselves are experiencing repeated head trauma. If “The Fall Guy” was trying to put us in the shoes of what it can feel like to be a stunt performer, it does so in the wrong way. At almost every turn, you’re left feeling concussed by the many contrivances and painfully unfunny humor.

While the promise of an action-comedy with Gosling trying to find someone who has gone missing may inspire hope in those looking for something to fill “The Nice Guys” hole in their life, this does not come even close. The actor has shown he is capable of outstanding comedic performances in everything, including last year’s “Barbie,” though this represents a major step down in comparison.

If you look hard enough, you can see him doing everything he can to carry the film, but the way everything is constructed around him does him no favors. The film feels closer to his work in Netflix’s “The Gray Man.” That is still worse by a large margin, but “The Fall Guy” remains similarly misguided in everything from the story to the way the action is presented. All the great stunt performers in the world can’t salvage a film if you don’t shoot them well, which becomes a persistent problem in Leitch’s film. 

Even worse, some of the more enjoyable sequences are buried under gimmicks. Whether it is when Colt becomes unknowingly drugged as he begins his search for the missing actor, or a car chase that keeps cutting away for ostensibly comedic purposes, nothing carries any impact. The stunt performers behind all the action do amazing work, but the film rarely presents them well. Most egregious are moments where we see an amazing stunt happen and then we cut to see Gosling superimposed into the moment.

Immediately shattering any sense of immersion, it feels like the exact type of thing that “The Fall Guy” would attempt to lightly poke fun at, as being the product of a producer’s note reminding us that there is a star of this caliber in the film. The film’s opening montage of other action films, including “Atomic Blonde,” is more exciting than anything in this one’s entire runtime. There are truly next to no memorable moments to be found. 

This lack of genuine thrills could be fine if the humor felt earned and not so forced. There is potential for genuine fun to be had in making it more of a romantic romp, like the recent “The Lost City,” especially when you have leads who are committing to the bit so fully, but that takes a backseat as well. Instead, “The Fall Guy” feels like an entire feature of scattered ideas that have been done better elsewhere. That there is the repeated discussion of how to fix the third act of the movie the characters are making is ironic, as the ending of “The Fall Guy” is actually the best bit, with one shot of Gosling falling giving it a little bit of something joyous right before it all drags to a close. 

“The Fall Guy” is correct in highlighting how stunt performers deserve more respect and more movies built around them. The trouble is, even after one supposedly devoted to throwing itself into this concept, that remains just as true when it ends as when it started. The only silver lining? Maybe this will eventually provide a springboard for this slog of a stunt movie to launch Gosling into “The Nice Guys 2.” Now that’s a production that’d be worth saving. 

Universal will release “The Fall Guy” in theaters on April 5.


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