It’s easy to forget that Ryan Gosling left us for a few years there. Gosling didn’t have a single acting credit in the years 2019, 2020 and 2021, before making his way back on the scene recently. It was a coordinated temporary pull-back with wife Eva Mendes, for family and privacy reasons. Now that Gosling is back, we can’t imagine life without him, and his turn as Ken in Barbie, recently punctuated by an outstanding live performance at the Oscars, has left us ready to give him all our affections and all our money.


This is to the significant benefit of his first post-Barbie role, David Leitch’s The Fall Guy, based on the 1980s TV series starring Lee Majors. Without Gosling’s devastatingly charming presence, the movie would be a lot more recognisable for what it is: a shaggy dog with a script that’s all over the place. The movie has enough propulsive action to feel directed by a former stunt man, which Leitch is, but it also feels written by a former stunt man. Fortunately, the presence of Gosling goes a long way.

Gosling plays Colt Seavers, a stunt man who frequently doubles for one of the biggest stars in the world, Tom Ryder (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), due to their physical similarity. He’s in a moony-eyed relationship? fling? with the camera operator on the current Ryder blockbuster, Jody Moreno (Emily Blunt), when a falling stunt goes wrong, and Colt breaks his back. Fortunately, it’s not enough to confine him to a wheelchair for the rest of his days, but it’s enough to make him quit the business and live life as a valet for a Mexican restaurant, contented with the free burritos he gets as a perk. It’s also enough to pull away from whatever he was starting with Jody, such that they haven’t spoken in over a year.

At least, he thought he was quitting the business. Ryder’s producer Gail (Hannah Waddingham) – if he’s a stand-in for Tom Cruise, she’s a stand-in for long-time Cruise producer Paula Wagner – calls Colt up one day and tells him he’s wanted on the Sydney set of Metalstorm, the directing debut of, you guessed it, Jody Moreno. Gail says Jody specifically requested him, and even with only a modicum of his former confidence, he can’t resist that. So he reports to the set of the alien invasion movie only to discover that Jody is the opposite of receptive to him being there.

See, Gail had her own reasons for calling Colt to the set. Ryder has gone missing, and she thinks Colt is the only one who can talk him off the ledge from whatever drug-fuelled freakout the eccentric star is on – or, failing that, find the drug dealers who might have kidnapped him. However, the extent of what’s really going on will only be revealed later.


The opening scene of The Fall Guy, which lays the groundwork both for Gosling’s infinite charms and his cute rapport with Blunt, is its best. But it also leads to one of the bigger questions that the film never satisfactorily resolves, or even cares about resolving. Seeing the height from which Colt did not successfully fall, it’s impossible to understand how he’s even alive, let alone still fit enough to perform the numerous stunts this new film will require of him. The fall creates an obvious point of adversity that Colt needs to overcome, but like many things in this script, it is introduced without ever being fleshed out.

As another example, why at one point is Colt attacked by the other co-star of Metalstorm, Aussie Teresa Palmer, wielding a prop sword as if she actually means to kill him? As a sign of the generally shoddy thinking that informs this film, Palmer’s character had not appeared in the film previously and essentially does not appear again. The answer, of course, is because Leitch envisioned this as a clever scene involving multiple stunts.


Then there are just basic errors in logic. For a number of scenes, Colt wears a Miami Vice jacket, which Gosling rocks just as hard as he rocked that scorpion jacket in Drive. The reason he wears it was that Miami Vice was the first TV show on which he performed stunts. The 43-year-old Gosling was only four years old when that show began its five-year run, and if you think this movie might be set in the past, then you’ll have to ignore all that talk about smart phones and deep fakes.

If it doesn’t seem logical to nitpick your way through a movie with these stars and this lightness on its feet – the violence here is all non-fatal, keeping things gentle – then it’s obvious that The Fall Guy has fallen down somewhere. Part of that is that instead of lasting 101 minutes, it runs 126, and that means lots of random stuffing that feels like wheel spinning. Some of these action scenes are reasonably diverting, if too many of them have the Sydney Opera House or the Sydney Harbour Bridge as a background. But we should expect more from a director with Leitch’s professional history.


Then there’s the problem that Blunt herself does not have enough to do. She and Gosling have an obvious chemistry, but the plot keeps them separated for much of the time, and she spends some of the movie’s biggest scenes trapped in an editing bay. It’s not what you’d want from a movie whose kineticism is supposed to be its big selling point.


The Fall Guy does have a love for movies, as the film’s stunt coordinator (Winston Duke) is always quoting movie lines at Colt while also serving in the obligatory buddy role. But it also has a certain cynicism that never quite sits correctly. We know the irredeemable Tom Ryder is a stand-in for Tom Cruise not only because of the similarity of their names and their statures within the entertainment industry, but also because he’s constantly bragging about doing his own stunts. Obviously both Colt Seavers and David Leitch would look down on a guy like that, especially if the boast is not true, but the real guy like that dragged Hollywood through COVID and out the other side. While biting the hand that feeds it, The Fall Guy should be grateful Gosling provides an alternate source of nourishment for its viewers.


The Fall Guy is currently playing in cinemas.

6 / 10