The Fall Guy review: Ryan Gosling is a screwball delight in this sweat-drenched stunt spectacle

Not to jinx it, but it looks as if the backlash against Hollywood’s overreliance on CGI has finally arrived. First came the high-profile failures of several digitally drenched, characterless sequels – think Aquaman 2 and Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. Then came the Sag-Aftra strikes, which saw actors push back against the use of AI to replicate their image, while multiple news stories surfaced alleging exploitative working conditions for VFX artists. And, now, suddenly, it seems in vogue for directors like Tim Burton to boast about the lack of CGI in their movies. Could it be that good, old-fashioned, practical moviemaking is finally back in style?

David Leitch’s The Fall Guy, then, is ideally timed. It’s a sweat-drenched spectacle that celebrates the harmonious union between heart-stopping stunt work and charismatic movie stars. Ryan Gosling, still high on that Kenergy, embraces his uncanny ability to be both the coolest and the goofiest guy in the room. He also brings a little screwball energy to the role of seasoned stuntman Colt Seavers, as he attempts to win back the heart of his director, Jody Moreno (Emily Blunt).

Jody’s leading man Tom Ryder (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, channelling just a hint of Matthew McConaughey) is missing. He’s been in Australia, shooting Jody’s debut film Metalstorm, a sci-fi epic that sits precisely at the midpoint between Dune and The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. Producer Gail Meyer (Ted Lasso’s Hannah Waddingham), sends Colt to track him down.

Kenergy: Ryan Gosling in ‘The Fall Guy’ (Universal)
Kenergy: Ryan Gosling in ‘The Fall Guy’ (Universal)

Colt ghosted Jody after an on-set accident left him first with a broken back, then with a bruised ego. See, his line of work demands that he take every hit with a thumbs up and a smile, then be disappeared into the moviemaking machine. No one talks about – or especially celebrates – the stunt performers who risk life and limb for far more famous people. At one point, Colt is asked if they hand out Oscars to people like him. His crestfallen “nope” speaks volumes. The Fall Guy’s hope is that, once Colt’s somersaulted several vehicles and saved the day, the audience will share in that dismay.

In an industry first, Chris O’Hara has been credited as The Fall Guy’s “stunt designer”, versus the traditional “stunt coordinator”, in an effort to underline his work’s artistry. And, true to that promise, the film features a number of practical showstoppers, among them a record-breaking vehicular cannon roll, some drug-fuelled hand-to-hand combat, and an explosive speed boat jump. Leitch treats these moments with adrenaline-doped reverence, akin to the shuttle launch in Armageddon or the jet takeoffs in Top Gun. Similarly, he purposefully draws attention to the wires, camera cranes, and small army of crew members required to make them possible.

Meanwhile, Drew Pearce’s script matches its zip with a self-referential touch. At its weakest, it’s overly reliant on pop culture: the scene of Colt sobbing to Taylor Swift’s “All Too Well” works, even if it’s a lesser iteration of what the TV series The Bear did with “Love Story”; there’s also an otherwise uncharacteristic, extremely poor taste joke about Amber Heard and Johnny Depp. But Blunt and Gosling have chemistry, and so does Gosling with everyone else, including co-stars Winston Duke, Stephanie Hsu and – somehow – a dog called Jean-Claude who only responds to French commands.

Ideologically, The Fall Guy is a film that pits craftsmanship against the fame-and-money-hungry – Colt is scanned by 360-degree cameras so that his face can be digitally replaced by Tom’s, all so he can later boast that he does his own stunts in interviews. If the film results in stunt performers gaining a little more respect from the public, that’s the ideal. If it merely reminds them how likeable Gosling is, that’s good, too.

Dir: David Leitch. Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emily Blunt, Winston Duke, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Hannah Waddingham, Stephanie Hsu. 12A, 126 minutes

‘The Fall Guy’ is in cinemas from 2 May