Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri May 03, 2024 3:18 pm 
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Let's do that just one more time

The subtext of The Fall Guy is that movies may be collective work, but the public is only expected to recognize a small handful of the people involved. The workers, the ones who spent so long on strike last year, get short shrift. There's an irony therefore that while the star, Ryan Gosling, plays the role of a stuntman, we never learn who the stuntmen of the stuntman are, those who perform his actual stunts - or the ones, like being set on fire, that his own daughters begged him not to do. (He did some, but not all like Tom Cruise, apparently.)

This hyperactive film is raved over by the critics who like it, who call it "refreshing," "a perfect summer movie," hugely entertaining," etc. For someone looking for intelligent filmmaking, it's not at all hugely entertaining: it's a lot of noise. It does comment on the physical abuse minor movie performers have taken - maybe less now that so much can be faked with CGI - and does so under the guise of a romance between Gosling's character, Colt Seavers, and Emily Blunt's, Jody Moreno. How their fading affair is kept alive through all the explosions and falls, along with an impossibly complicated subplot involving conspiracy and murder, is one of the mysteries that surrounds this supposedly fun movie. But it feels mean to call it supposedly fun, when Gosling is so attractive and appealing in it. Blunt doesn't get enough to do, but she doesn't get in the way of the charm. Several other actors whom we won't mention do, though, as can happen in a a hyperactive, over-plotted movie.

This seems like Ryan Gosling's biggest movie yet, even though he has already had three Oscar nominations, which this isn't likely to be, and he did far more important work in the past. His 2001 performance in The Believer as a Jewish boy who becomes a neo-Nazi was extraordinary, so real it felt like a documentary. He had a string of great roles in Half Nelson, Lars and the Real Girl, Blue Valentine, Drive, and one of the most interesting rom coms of the decade, Crazy, Stupid, Love. Perhaps now that Gosling is a big famous star he isn't going to do interesting little dramatic films anymore. It's a pity. Greta Gerwig's Barbie was a step in a similar wrong direction. Barbie is a stunt more than a film. (Gerwig has been lured into the big time away from her obscure origins as the Indie Queen.)

The Fall Guy movie is "loosely based on" the Lee Majors TV series of the same title with a main character with the same name, Colt Seavers. But Majors' series was about a stunt man and colleagues who used their skills in their spare time earning bounty fees for tracking down bail jumpers. This movie has nothing to do with that and everything to do with the charisma of its star, and his soulful, long-suffering character. This Colt Seavers has taken a fall too many and been laid up for a year for a severe back injury. He gets brought back to the stunt job by somebody on a new movie whose director Jody Moreno (Emily Blunt), formerly a lower ranking crew member, had a thing with Colt. Apparently feeling self-betrayed, he hid away from her after his fall. Now he is back and so, maybe, is the romance. But injury-threatening violence takes the place of sex here and there's little time even for a kiss.

The Fall Guy isn't another action movie. It's a movie about action movies. But then it gets dragged into being an action movie after all. Finally it turns into so much of a jumble you long for a pure action movie, like Dev Patels' energetic, fresh new one, Monkey Man. A Gosling-Blunt romance deserved first place; here it merely interferes with the comic rhythm of the story.

Gosling was always only an ordinary looking man with a built up physique. He was never handsome. But now he has an aura and in this role it is on full display. In The Fall Guy the more scruffy and beat-up, overly tanned, bearded, and scarred he gets, the sexier and more handsome he looks. He needs this rough patina to bloom into the glamor he has acquired though the stardom that peaked with becoming the male equivalent of a Barbie Doll. His odd, crabwise apotheosis into Hollywood superstardom came with singing "I'm Not Ken" - very well, though originally unwillingly - at the Academy Awards. If you didn't know who he was up till then, now you do. But so what? Acting well in movies isn't about fame. Or is it? Gosling - the name itself awkward and gawky - has stepped into the drabber modern equivalent of the old glamor-puss males like Fonda, Grant, Peck, et al. who just were.

It's too bad a real romance film wasn't made with Gosling and Blunt but they haven't major chemistry; she hasn't the wattage; the elaborate conspiracy plot takes up too much time for love to bloom, and vice versa. We and the stars should be glad The Fall Guy isn't worse than it is. The director, David Leitch, has nothing going for him, unless you think co-directing an early John Wick movie and helming the unwatchable Bullet Train, the dull, dreary Atomic Blonde and the ninth Fast and Furious film are recommendations. What really counts is that Leitch must have been a great stunt man himself in his day, standing in for Brad Pitt and a Bourne Matt Damon. That record shows he does know about the job - of stunt man. Not the job of directing a movie.

The Fall Guy, 126 mins., debuted March. 12, 2024 at Austin (SXSW), and opened theatrically in many countries in April. 2024. Screened foer this review May 3, 2024 t Hilltop Century, Richmond, Calif. Metacritic[ rating: 73%

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