By Alex McPherson

Fun, charming, and heartfelt, albeit insubstantial, director David Leitch’s “The Fall Guy” is purely entertaining – letting us watch two hot leads sizzle up the screen in an action rom-com that’s an ode to stunt teams and behind-the-scenes workers.

Leitch’s film, very loosely based on the 1980s TV series of the same name, centers around Colt Seavers (Gosling), an outwardly confident yet insecure stunt double for the superstar Tom Ryder (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, suitably obnoxious), who lies about doing his own stunts. Colt is in a fling with camera operator Jody Moreno (Emily Blunt), and everything seems great:

Colt can do what he loves, impress Jody, and feel cool. At least, until it all falls apart. Colt breaks his back while redoing an aerial stunt — Tom claims that Colt’s face was visible on Take One — which makes him question his life choices. Colt (perhaps because of his bruised ego), pushes Jody away, and wants to abandon the profession altogether. Jody is heartbroken, and Colt begins working as a valet at a Mexican restaurant.

Eighteen months later  Colt, stuck in a rut and regretting his decisions, is contacted by the high-strung, Diet-Coke-addicted Gail Meyer (Hannah Waddingham), Tom’s film producer. Gail informs Colt that Jody is directing her first film — a mishmash of “Dune” and “Mad Max” called “Metalstorm” — and Jody wants Colt to come aboard. Colt is thrilled, seeing this as a chance to get back together with Jody. He heads to Sydney, Australia, to begin filming. 

Upon arrival, however, Colt discovers that Jody never actually asked for him. On the contrary, she’s highly resentful, at one point taking out her anger by making Colt repeat a painful stunt until her bloodlust is satisfied. But there’s still a flirtation between them, a flicker of the love that used to be, that shines through in their alternately combative and affectionate banter.

Before long, Gail reveals to Colt that Tom has gone missing and tasks Colt with finding him before time runs out and production shuts down on “Metalstorm.” This could be Colt’s chance to save Jody’s movie, redeem himself in her eyes, and rekindle their bond. Thus, the stage is set for an adventure that succeeds most if viewers sit back, let the increasingly convoluted plot wash over them, and go along for the crowd-pleasing ride.

Indeed, “The Fall Guy” is a breezily diverting experience, with pop culture references galore and an obvious appreciation for filmmaking and the people who work tirelessly behind the scenes to make it all a reality. It’s also an opportunity to bask in the star power of Gosling and Blunt, whose dynamic gives the film a sexy burst of energy that buoys a plot that becomes a little too unwieldy for its own good by the chaotic final act.

Aaron Tyler-Johnson as mega-star Tom Ryder.

Leitch’s film tries to simultaneously be a cheesy romantic comedy, a self-effacing send up of blockbusters, and a tribute to the tireless efforts of stunt crews, but it ultimately short-changes all of these threads, becoming far less than the sum of its parts. But damn, is it a likable ride nonetheless.

Over the years, Gosling has proven himself as a versatile actor, and “The Fall Guy” gives him yet another opportunity to shine. His performance as Colt won’t win any awards – Leitch doesn’t bother much with backstory or give Colt’s “serious” moments time to breathe without balancing them with self-aware humor or broad slapstick comedy. However, Gosling’s brand of goofy charisma works well here, as Colt becomes the lead star of his own action film.

Gosling’s always a joy to watch, whether engaging in Leitch’s creatively-staged action sequences (a psychedelic nightclub beat-down and a battle within a garbage-truck-turned-wrecking ball are the standouts), preparing for a particularly grueling stunt on a film set, or crying his heart out to Taylor Swift’s “All Too Well” while reminiscing about his former fling with Blunt’s Jody. Much of the character’s appeal rests on Gosling’s shoulders, though, with him delivering sporadically eye-rolling dialogue with infectious sincerity.

Blunt is given less to work with here – and is largely sidelined for most of the film’s cluttered second act – but she has great chemistry with Gosling. Jody’s a passionate, career-focused woman, but can only hide her continued yearning for Colt for so long. Colt and Jody’s back-and-forth dialogue and will-they-won’t-they dynamic (elevated by Leitch’s perhaps overly self-assured direction) never loses its appeal, regardless of the story’s predictability.

Less successful is the satirical industry exposé element of the plot, which becomes too cartoonish, and almost becomes a parody of itself. It’s disappointing, in a way, since Leitch makes a lot of effort to immerse us in the thick of the “Metalstorm” film set early on, emphasizing all the coordination necessary to craft the perfect scene.

There’s an obvious reverence for the process that’s satisfying and immersive, but “The Fall Guy” ultimately doesn’t do much with this set-up. The peek-behind-the-curtain approach becomes window dressing for a film that leans into extremes, distracting us from otherwise relevant commentary on greed, fame, and AI.

  And that’s perfectly fine. As a summer blockbuster, “The Fall Guy” delivers, chock full of suitably crunchy fight sequences (Leitch’s background in stunts and action films is on full display), thrilling chases, quip-filled, reference-heavy dialogue, and a central romance that’s earnest and sentimental, carefully tuned for date-night-viewing.

But there are no stakes, which sits strangely, since the nature of stunt work involves performers putting themselves at risk for our entertainment.

There’s a lack of emotional engagement outside of watching beautiful people in a goofy lark that’s watchable without being especially memorable. Supporting turns from Winston Duke, Stephanie Tsu, and a dog that only responds to commands in French are amusing, but underdeveloped.

Footage of Leitch’s actual stunt crew on the film plays over the credits, too, and one can’t help but wish “The Fall Guy” paid more attention to the sacrifice and bravery that goes into the craft — rather than devolving into 80s-inspired ludicrousness.

The film remains consistently funny, however, and never boring. It deserves to be watched on the big screen with a lively crowd as a safe, reliable, mainstream experience accompanied by a large bucket of popcorn.

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. Alex’s Grade: B

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.

By Lynn Venhaus

Far from plastic and without a whiff of cynicism, “Barbie” is a cherry lemonade-frosted cupcake made with the best ingredients, no artificial sweeteners, and sprinkled with Mom love. It tickled me pink.

For our hero’s journey, Barbie must leave her comfort zone, the female-fantastic Barbie Land, to discover the perils of the Real World, where men rule, and she questions her existence.

Savvy writer-director Greta Gerwig has crafted an irresistible fantasy-comedy vision narrated by Helen Mirren, featuring Kate McKinnon as the outcast Weird Barbie, Ryan Gosling projecting “Kenergy” while wearing a floor-length white faux fur coat, and Lizzo singing a spirited “Pink” wake-up tune.

Whatever emotions a Barbie doll has evoked in your lifetime, this inventive live-action movie will bring them all out because of its sincere heart. While a delectable confection, there are multi-layers to digest, making it a surprising thought-provoking piece for our time.

On the one hand, with its frothy cotton-candy-colored façade and breezy beach vibe, “Barbie” is a joyous ode to childhood make-believe and a sentimental nostalgia trip for those who grew up playing with the style-setter. (However, this movie is not for kids, so scratch your plans for a mother-daughter bonding experience if they are under 12).

Brimming with great gags and vibrant visuals, it’s a dizzying pop o’ culture and universality. Through a smart, clever, and funny script co-written by Gerwig and the father of her two children, accomplished filmmaker Noah Baumbach, it is also self-aware and pokes fun at the Barbie ideal and how that has evolved over the years.

Most importantly, though, it is a matter-of-fact look at women’s treatment in society, pushing for more female empowerment while it points out inequalities and unrealistic beauty images. So, whether you love or hate Mattel’s global fashion icon, the takeaways are plentiful.

That’s because all the elements come together to celebrate girl power, while also taking a closer look at a toy’s story and what it reflects about us. Case in point — Issa Rae plays the President, and only female justices are on the Supreme Court in blissful Barbie Land while America Ferrara is a harried working mom in the Real World that tells it like it is in a monologue worthy of break-out applause.

Two-time Oscar nominee Gerwig, who grew up playing with Barbies, wants everyone to have their cake and eat it too. That’s why it is playful, but then addresses how it is a powerful yet polarizing corporation’s merchandise, at once adored by consumers but also decried by detractors.

With Warner Brothers’ studio’s extensive marketing campaign in high gear this summer, the world’s most famous doll, born in 1959, is ubiquitous – and both the filmmakers and filmgoers have embraced this journey.

Margot Robbie as Barbie

Gerwig, an inspired storyteller and enthusiastic film fan, includes nods to such whimsical influences as “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure” and “The Wizard of Oz,” and the colorful aesthetics of the Golden Age of Hollywood musicals and Jacques Demy’s unorthodox “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.”

And of course, she references “Grease” and “Saturday Night Fever” in group numbers and tempo. The catchy centerpiece “Dance the Night Way,” sung by Dua Lipa, also a Barbie, is produced by hitmaker Mark Ronson – although cut short when Barbie’s bubble bursts. 

The kicky escapist pop soundtrack includes the sampling of “Barbie Girl,” the 1997 Aqua song, in Nicki Minaj and Ice Spice’s “Barbie World,” along with HAIM’s “Home,” Sam Smith’s “Man I Am,” Tame Impala’s “Journey to the Real World,” Billie Eilish’s “What Was I Made For?” and yes, Gosling’s ‘90s boy-band ballad “I’m Just Ken.”

Must also mention the Indigo Girls song from 1989 “Closer to Fine” that becomes a singalong!

A nod to inventor Ruth Handler is lovely, with Rhea Perlman as the Jewish businesswoman (and Mattel’s first president) having tea with her creation. “Humans have only one ending. Ideas live forever,” Ruth tells Barbie.

The pink paradise that is Barbie Land is a wonder to behold, an imaginative playground where girls of all sizes rule. They are independent, successful Nobel Prize winners, Olympic athletes, astronauts, and doctors, living in custom Barbie Dream Houses and changing lives.

The most upbeat is Stereotypical Barbie, and as the blonde bachelorette beauty, Margot Robbie is splendid, with that megawatt smile of hers, radiating star quality. A two-time Oscar nominee (“Bombshell” and “I, Tonya”), she also produced the film.

Her self-sufficient character is no bimbo and certainly not in anyone’s shadow, least of all Ken, who is fine focusing on Barbie’s happiness.

When she discovers – gasp – that men rule the world, and Ken becomes enamored with the patriarchy, thirsting for the power associated with being in charge, not to mention hanging with his macho-cool bros –  it becomes a rocky road.

Fortunately, the toxic masculinity fueled Kendom is short-lived, and the divine disco dancing dude returns as his supportive self.

Ryan Gosling

Two-time Oscar nominee Gosling is flat-out hilarious and an all-in team player as the golden boy. While known for his brooding performances in “Blade Runner 2049,” “Drive” and “The Ides of March,” he has proven how funny he can be in two stints hosting “Saturday Night Live” (must-see sketches are “Close Encounters” in 2015 and “Papyrus” five years ago) and shown his prowess for singing and dance in “La La Land” and his Mouseketeer roots on “The All New Mickey Mouse Club.”

Robbie’s Barbie is not the only girl in town – and the casting is faultless. Emerald Fennell, who won an Oscar for her original screenplay “Promising Young Woman,” is seen briefly as the pregnant Midge, Barbie’s best pal that was discontinued in 2002.

McKinnon is a hoot as the embodiment of the doll who was played with a little too rough, one that had her hair chopped off and her face scribbled with magic markers. She’s become the sage, and makes Barbie select either a stiletto heel or a Birkenstock sandal, a riff on her path as “The Matrix” red or blue pill choice.

And Michael Cera steals the whole show as Allan, Ken’s friend — “I can wear the same clothes.” Marvel guys Simu Liu and Kingsley Ben-Adir are good sports as other Beach Kens. John Cena as Mermaid Ken? Yes, please.

The innovative sunny, sparkly production design by six-time Oscar nominee Sarah Greenwood is a work of art, aided by her frequent collaborator Katie Spencer as set decorator, as is the costume designs by two-time Oscar winner Jacqueline Durran, who worked with Gerwig on “Little Women.”

“Barbie” gets so much right that it’s unfortunate that the filmmakers don’t seem to know how to properly end it, appearing to run out of gas on that golden stretch of Pacific Coast Highway.

Nevertheless, any film that encourages self-expression is to be saluted.

As a first-generation Barbie owner (my mom gave me the ‘Picnic Set’ Barbie with the fishing pole, wearing jeans, for my 6th birthday in 1960), the gift was aspirational, for I could dream of adventures and a glamorous life of achievements when I grew up.

And that spirit lifts this entertaining film into a magical ‘make your own kind of music’ anthem whose time has come.

“Barbie” is a 2023 comedy-fantasy directed by Greta Gerwig and starring Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, Michael Cera, Issa Rae, Kate McKinnon, America Ferrara, Simu Liu, Alexandra Shipp, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Will Ferrell and Rhea Perlman. It is rated PG-13 for suggestive references and brief language, and the runtime is 1 hour, 54 minutes. It opens in theaters July 21. Lynn’s Grade: B+.

Note: this review was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.