By Lynn Venhaus
Its basket overflowing with clever Easter Eggs, “The Fall Guy” is an enormously entertaining action-packed valentine to moviemaking that gives stunt men a long overdue standing ovation.

Loosely adapted from the popular 1980s television series that starred Lee Majors as a Hollywood stuntman who doubled as a bounty hunter, “The Fall Guy” is a fast and furious action thriller mixed with a charming romantic comedy that works on both levels.

Man of the Hour Ryan Gosling continues his hot streak, crushing it as the likable goofball Colt Seavers who is the stunt double for an obnoxious marquee movie star. 

He fell hard for a woman camera operator now making her first big-budget film, Jody Moreno (Emily Blunt, warm and wonderful), but a set accident changed his perspective on what he made a career doing.

Now back in action, his battle-scarred hero journey and their relationship are complicated, so no spoilers from me, because it’s just too much fun discovering well-placed zingers, sight gags that pop, and a dizzying number of slick twists.

They’re making a ‘serious’ space cowboys-aliens movie called “Metal Storm,” and the script is filled with many references to popular movies, homages to epic stunts of the past, and tips of the hat to the dedicated people who make up the proficient crew.

Because of the extra effort and care here, the movie is a fun excursion while getting wrapped up in the action and the romance. – sincere and heartfelt.

I hope that unicorns, post-it notes and a dog named Jean-Claude make you laugh as much as I did.

With their effortless charm and palpable chemistry, recent Oscar nominees Gosling and Blunt drive this across the finish line as one of the most enjoyable big-screen experiences of the year.

You can tell they were having so much fun filming this movie within a movie because it easily transfers into a crowd-pleaser.

The supporting cast is also first-rate, with Aaron Taylor-Johnson amusing as the insufferable narcissistic actor Tom Ryder, whose careless ways and excessive partying are about to blow up his image, and not in a good way.

Taylor-Johnson, who’s been memorable in “Kick-Ass,” “Nocturnal Animals,” and as Tangerine in “Bullet Train,” is not afraid to play unlikable, and he’s a total cad here, if a bit cartoonish.

His producer Gail Meyer, played by the savvy Hannah Waddingham, who won an Emmy as team owner Rebecca on “Ted Lasso,” goes into damage control. She is broadly drawn as an on-the-nose caricature of a domineering Hollywood insider.

The always likable Winston Duke is the stunt coordinator Dan, and he is Colt’s longtime pal, sharing a warm connection. Stephanie Hsu, fresh off her Oscar-nominated role in “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” is Alma, one of the movie’s efficient creative team, and so is Zara Michales as tech whiz Venti, and they’re lively additions to the plot. Theresa Palmer shows off striking moves as Ryder’s girlfriend and as an actress in the film.

The writer and director are inspired and experienced at delivering this crowd-pleasing adrenalin rush of a contemporary blockbuster while also incorporating sentimental throwbacks to beloved movies and television. It’s also very funny.

Director David Leitch, who was a stunt man for Brad Pitt and Matt Damon (those Bourne movies), and directed the vastly underrated “Atomic Blonde,” worked with screenwriter Drew Pearce on his “Hobbs & Shaw” movie that was part of the “Fast and Furious” franchise. Leitch’s transition to director first happened with his stunt pal Chad Stahelski on the original “John Wick” movie. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Pearce also wrote “Iron Man 3” and the story for “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation,” and has the smarts to pull off a snappy story with nifty hairpin turns and the character-driven humor.

First and foremost, though, the movie celebrates those unsung heroes who keep on ticking after being thrown off buildings, set on fire, inside car rolls, and performing incredible stunts. This should help push the needle towards establishing an Oscar for stunt work, which is long overdue. (Side note: The St. Louis Film Critics Association added a stunt category to its annual awards last year).

You may think you see stunts that resemble scenes from James Bond, “Dune,” “Mission: Impossible” and other tentpole movies, and you would be correct. The writer and director skillfully add plenty of winks and smiles.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Tom Ryder

In a movie with dazzling set pieces, it’s nice to see a credit for stunt designer, and that’s Chris O’Hara, supposedly the first credit of its kind on screen. Another meta touch in the movie-within-a-movie is an emphasis on the others who work hard in service of the marquee names.

The movie also benefits from a terrific soundtrack that incorporates classic rock, TV theme songs, and Taylor Swift’s “All Too Well.”

With Gosling and Blunt propelling this brisk-paced movie with their star power, captivating story and thrilling stunt work, “The Fall Guy” kicks off the summer movie season with panache. It incorporates everything I like about going to the movies. You must stay for the credits because there are more delightful visual treats to see.

“The Fall Guy” is a 2024 action thriller comedy romance directed by David Leitch and starring Ryan Gosling, Emily Blunt, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Hannah Waddingham, Stephanie Hsu, Winston Duke and Teresa Palmer. It is rated PG-13 for action and violence, drug content and some strong language. It opened in theatres May 3. Lynn’s Grade: A

The original TV series “The Fall Guy,” which ran for five seasons, from 1981-1986.
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