Nihilism and Sexy Bacon — The Fall Guy

William J Hammon
9 min readMay 18, 2024

If you’ve read this blog with regularity, you know I’m a huge fan of the Pitch Meeting series on YouTube. For those not aware, it’s a show that began on Screen Rant’s channel before spinning off onto its own dedicated channel under the Screen Rant umbrella. In the series, comedian Ryan George plays a “Screenwriter Guy” and a “Producer Guy,” positing a satirical pitch meeting where the former sells the latter on existing films based on the very tropes and clichés that ultimately undermine them. In one of the earliest episodes, for Jurassic World, there’s a moment that has always stuck with me. When SG brings up the subplot about Vincent D’Onofrio trying to militarize raptors, PG laughs at the absurdity of the idea, to which SG replies, “I know, but I had a dream where a guy was on a motorcycle next to some raptors… and this is the only story thread I could think of to get us there.” It’s a wonderfully funny acknowledgement and indictment of the Hollywood practice of taking one basic, awesome visual idea, and basically creating an entire movie around it to justify the thought.

That sentiment is what pervaded my entire experience watching The Fall Guy, which is still struggling to make back its purported $130 million budget in its third weekend. To be clear, this isn’t a bad movie. In fact, it’s a ton of fun in places, and I absolutely respect and admire director David Leitch’s desire to homage the craft of stunt work. However, when you watch the actual film unfold, it becomes clearer and clearer that this feature length hat-tip is pretty much just that. Sure there’s a story and some characters built around it, but the plot is somewhat hackneyed and full of holes, while the cast consists mostly of charismatic but interchangeable pastiches, resulting in a quasi-action satire that feels like the studio (in this case, Universal) approved some lighthearted jokes at the industry’s expense in exchange for marketability, without actually addressing any of the inherent issues brought up in the process.

I know that all sounds really heady, especially for what is clearly meant as a Summer Blockbuster, so let me reiterate that I had a good time watching this. The cinematography is superb, as is the editing. The script, while lacking in some key elements, is still quite funny in parts (there’s a “drive me to my car” bit that worked really well). The catalog soundtrack serves as a secondary character to the proceedings (a montage set to “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” is inspired). And of course, the stunt choreography and production are fantastic, because the vast majority of the set pieces are done on location with practical techniques. Even the few that required blue screens and CGI (which dominated the film’s trailers) still maintained a good amount of live action coordination, evidenced by a behind-the-scenes reel of all the major stunts played over the credits. The film even earned a Guinness World Record for most cannon rolls performed in a car. The one bit of “inside baseball” that helps drive the story — that of an A-list actor having a rapport with a frequent stunt double — is also quite accurate to the realities of the industry, as we learned in tragic terms this past week, with Chris Pratt giving a heartfelt tribute to Tony McFarr, a former double of his who died suddenly a few days ago.

All that stuff is spectacular. It’s the other basic elements of film production that leave us just a bit wanting, and that sadly perpetuate the very industry foibles that the movie seeks to lampoon. Loosely based on the 80s TV series starring Lee Majors, here it is Ryan Gosling who steps into the shoes (and flammable tracksuit) of Colt Seavers, a career stuntman who is tied to action star Tom Ryder (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a sort of anti-Tom Cruise parody who has the bombastic personality of his seeming inspiration, but not the bravery (or craziness) to perform his own stunts. Colt enjoys the thrills of his vocation, works with a high degree of professionalism, and casually dates the attractive camera operator Jody Moreno (Emily Blunt). He says in narration that he just “has a crush” on her, but several montaged moments demonstrate them fully going out without being all that discreet about it.

After an on-set accident that results in serious injury, however, Colt removes himself from the game, the fear of death putting him into a deep funk where he’s reduced to valet parking for a living. But as we all know in films like this, that depressed reduction is short-lived, as Colt is contacted by Gail Meyer (Hannah Waddingham), Tom’s overbearing PR manager of a personal producer. She’s working on a new sci-fi epic called Metalstorm, where Tom is playing a “Space Cowboy,” and she needs Colt to fly to Australia for a very special stunt (the aforementioned world record-breaking car roll). Colt initially refuses, as script convention dictates, until Gail sweetens the deal by mentioning that Jody has been promoted, that this is her debut as a full director, and wouldn’t it just be awful if they couldn’t do this stunt, thus ruining the movie and Jody’s breakthrough? Despite their blossoming love affair, Colt hasn’t spoken to Jody since the accident, and has conflicted feelings, but he decides to come to the production’s rescue in spite of his PTSD misgivings.

Yeah, this is contrived as fuck, and it only gets worse from here as far as plot is concerned. When Colt arrives on set, it soon becomes clear that there are ulterior motives at play, as Jody is NOT happy to see him, given his radio silence, and even his friend/stunt coordinator Dan (a mostly wasted Winston Duke) is upset at having to deal with the fallout of Gail’s power move, as she flat out lied to Colt about Jody asking for him and “needing” him on this shoot. She later reveals — in a speech about how shallow Hollywood can be, giving us the meta quote that headlines this review — that Tom has disappeared from the set, having fallen in with some shady types, and it’s up to Colt to track him down, because he has the “sexy bacon” to justify Tom’s “nihilism,” thereby creating a symbiotic relationship that must work in tandem to get butts in cinema seats, lest the art of action movies be reduced to nothing but digital effects.

Okay, there are two major problems with this setup. The first is that almost all story credibility is dismissed when Colt points out the obvious, and just tells Gail to call the police. She makes up some excuse about the tabloids, which is utter nonsense, but also demonstrates why the format of the old TV show couldn’t really be properly adapted. This is a TV trope, the idea that a simple solution isn’t employed for the sake of giving us a plot that’ll fit the time slot. It’s lame, but it works for 22-minute sitcoms and 45-minute dramas. It doesn’t work for a two-hour movie. Eventually basic logic and reality have to win out. Second, the idea of Gail hiring Colt behind Jody’s back is a bit far-fetched. The director doesn’t always have to approve personnel hirings, but there’s a process to bringing anyone on a film (or television) set, including security credentials, payroll, and other details. So many people would realistically have to be involved in order for Colt to be picked up, especially on short notice, and given their established dynamic, it’s highly unlikely that Jody wouldn’t have been informed by someone, be it Dan or a Line Producer. I can suspend my disbelief with the best of them, but at this point we’re only 15 minutes in and I’m already bending over backwards so much that my spine is as injured as Colt’s.

From there things only get weirder, which is often fun, but does undercut the stated ethos of the picture. The whole production is intent on avoiding CGI, but then we’re treated to an extended drug trip joke where Colt hallucinates a unicorn, and it goes nowhere. There’s a knowing fourth wall break when someone asks if stuntmen get Oscars, which rings fairly hollow when you consider that Gosling and Blunt “presented” a tribute to stunt work at the Academy Awards this year, but rather than advocating for an award category for the artform, they just traded poorly-written “Barbenheimer” trash talk before tossing to a montage. The nefarious plot involves deepfakes and AI technology, only to lead to a resolution that unintentionally endorses this very threat to the industry. Our two leads decide to keep their relationship strictly professional for Metalstorm (even though of course they’ll rekindle), but the flick also decides to have an entire scene where Jody airs their dirty laundry over a megaphone as a pretext to make Colt perform a painful stunt several more times as “punishment” for being distant after his injury.

That last bit is sadly one of the movie’s bigger letdowns, in that at times it can’t decide if it wants to be an action film or a rom-com, even though the latter angle fails at every turn. Gosling and Blunt are both terrific actors, but strangely they only have chemistry in this picture when they’re not talking to each other, and their best scenes are completely independent of one another. Part of the charm of the film is seeing how the sausage gets made on a film set, but those moments are cut off in favor of the same tired relationship beats that fly in the face of that dedication to the nuts and bolts process of production. You can’t even get behind the major twist that leads to the climax, because it requires a set of coincidences so intricate that it borders on impossibility, even though it relies on a deep connection and understanding between Colt and Jody that was never established because all the moments that could convince us of their attraction are relegated to brief, wordless flashbacks. To go from what the story gives us about them to this crucial moment is a leap worthy of Tom Cruise on the motorcycle in Dead Reckoning.

When you combine that shortfall with other truly odd choices like Stephanie Hsu playing a dog-walker, Gail and Tom being little more than caricatures of what detractors think all Hollywood is like, and an absolutely baffling karaoke rendition of “Against All Odds,” it feels like the entire movie just exists to have the stunts, which is fine if you’re watching a 20-minute stage show at Disneyland, but it’s hard to buy as a big budget tentpole release.

This is a genuinely fun film, where the good moments definitely outweigh the bad ones (reflected in the final grade), but it comes dangerously close to collapsing under its own weight. As pure popcorn fare, this is entertaining as all get out, thanks mostly to the great action and Gosling’s comedic chops, along with Leitch’s production values. But any ambitions beyond that just don’t get across because the movie either isn’t willing or able to commit fully to them. If you’re going to pay tribute to stunts, go all the way and don’t use any digital effects. If you’re going to do a rom-com on a movie set, go all the way and make our leads worth rooting for as a couple. If you’re going to take a few pot shots at your studio overlords, do so in a much subtler way that will actually get past them without a bunch of notes that render it as pure parody. If you want to send a message about how dangerous AI is, make sure you don’t wind up accidentally justifying it. There’s a lot that The Fall Guy can say about the state of the film business and where it might be going, but like the very inciting event that drives Colt’s journey, there’s something off about the way it’s all rigged up.

Grade: B

Join the conversation in the comments below! What film should I review next? Do you think stunts should get an Oscar category? What’s the strangest way you’ve ever seen Phil Collins injected into a movie? Let me know! And remember, you can follow me on Twitter (fuck “X”) and YouTube for even more content, and check out the entire BTRP Media Network at btrpmedia.com!

Originally published at http://actuallypaid.com on May 18, 2024.

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William J Hammon

All content is from the blog, “I Actually Paid to See This,” available at actuallypaid.com