Film reviews: The Fall Guy | Love Lies Bleeding

Starring Ryan Gosling as a stuntman-turned-detective, The Fall Guy may deconstruct movie magic but sadly it doesn’t deliver any, writes Alistair Harkness

The Fall Guy (12A) **

Love Lies Bleeding (15) *****

Anyone who grew up in the 1980s on a steady diet of imported American television may vaguely recall The Fall Guy, a goofy show about a Hollywood stunt performer called Colt Seavers (played by Lee Majors) who moonlights as a bounty hunter and uses the skills of his day-job to track down criminals. It had an ear-wormy country-and-western-tinged theme song (The Unknown Stuntman, sung by Majors himself) and climaxed each week with some elaborate action set-piece in which Seavers and his team would engineer an outlandish stunt to coax some above-the-law reprobate into confessing their crimes. Not exactly memorable TV then, but in Hollywood’s ongoing IP-obsessed blockbuster culture, when every non-original studio film has the whiff of desperation about it, it’s easy to see why stuntman-turned-director David Leitch (Bullet Train) might want to revive it as a vehicle for Ryan Gosling.

Ryan Gosling as Colt Seavers and Emily Blunt as Judy Moreno in The Fall Guy PIC: Universal StudiosRyan Gosling as Colt Seavers and Emily Blunt as Judy Moreno in The Fall Guy PIC: Universal Studios
Ryan Gosling as Colt Seavers and Emily Blunt as Judy Moreno in The Fall Guy PIC: Universal Studios

Even without his premature elevation to national treasure status in the wake of Barbie, Gosling’s all-rounder status makes him, in theory, hard to resist in a movie that allows him to slyly draw on his own ultra-cool performance in Drive and mesh it with the gift for physical comedy he mined to such hilarious effect in The Nice Guys. Throw in a romantic subplot that allows him to trade quippy banter with Emily Blunt (cutting loose after Oppenheimer) and it’s hard to see how The Fall Guy could go wrong. But like a mistimed stunt, go wrong it does, resulting in a film that’s so much less than the sum of its very appealing parts.

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Re-imagining the TV show as an action-heavy rom-com, the film casts Gosling as Seavers. No longer a bounty hunter, he’s now an ex-stuntman who becomes unwittingly embroiled in a murder-mystery when the insecure, Tom Cruise-esque movie star he used to double (played here by Aaron Taylor-Johnson) disappears from the set of his latest film. Called in by the film’s producer (Hannah Waddington) to once again be his stunt double and help find him, he reluctantly agrees to come out of retirement when he realises the film’s director is Jody Moreno (Blunt), the ex he’s been pining for since injuring himself and leaving the industry in shame.

The plot – and there’s a lot of it – consciously borrows from a variety of sources, most amusingly the largely forgotten Jeff Bridges film Against All Odds (Blunt’s character performs a karaoke tribute to its Phil Collins-penned title song). Sadly none of it hangs together, something that Drew Pearce’s script – which does have some moments of inspiration – repeatedly acknowledges by having characters comment on story problems the film-within-the-film is having, a gag deployed so often it’s like watching a stand-up comedian explain every joke in their routine.

It’s a problem that’s baked into David Leitch’s conception for the film as a whole. A former stunt double for Brad Pitt and Matt Damon, his determination to use his source material’s behind-the-scenes premise to celebrate the unsung heroes who make movies exciting may give an insider edge to gags that both call out the film industry’s over-reliance on CGI and take potshots at movie stars who always claim to do their own stunts (something the film turns into a major plot point). But in kow-towing to the relentless action of modern blockbuster filmmaking, it also undermines the very industry it’s celebrating.

Katy O'Brian as Jackie and Kristen Stewart as Lou in Love Lies BleedingKaty O'Brian as Jackie and Kristen Stewart as Lou in Love Lies Bleeding
Katy O'Brian as Jackie and Kristen Stewart as Lou in Love Lies Bleeding

All through the film characters that aren’t stunt performers repeatedly demonstrate fighting and driving skills that would put Jason Bourne to shame, with Blunt’s character even replicating The Bourne Ultimatum’s hardback-book-to-the-throat fight moves during an encounter with someone she mistakenly thinks is trying to attack her. What the film fails to grasp, though, is that if her character can do this with no specialist training, what exactly is the point of Gosling’s character? Why are we supposed to be in awe of Colt’s skills?

That Leitch doesn’t understand that this conceptual failure is a problem is also why the film’s stunts don’t impress. For all the technical mastery on display in the behind-the-scenes footage that plays over the end credits, nothing is ever at stake in the film itself. The Fall Guy deconstructs movie magic, it doesn’t deliver any.

Luckily the new Kristen Stewart thriller Love Lies Bleeding does – and then some. A wild, audacious, crime-soaked love story it takes its 1980s bodybuilding backdrop as a creative cue to deliver a pumped-up slice of entertainingly lurid pulp fiction. The sophomore feature of Saint Maud’s British writer/director Rose Glass, it casts Stewart as Lou, the mullet-sporting manager of a rundown New Mexico gym whose strained relationship with her gun-running father (a menacing Ed Harris) comes to a violent head with the arrival in town of Jackie (Katy O’Brian), an Oklahoma drifter en route to a bodybuilding contest in Las Vegas.

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Jackie has the itinerant lifestyle of Bruce Banner and the sculpted physique of his Incredible Hulk alter ego, more so after she locks eyes with Lou while training in her gym. Their instant attraction leads to both a steamy sexual relationship and a new regimen of steroid-enhanced workouts, the latter visually juiced-up with surreal, vein-popping, CGI augmented interludes that track the roid rage brewing inside her. A brutal killing involving Lou’s scumbag brother-in-law JJ (Dave Franco) sets both women on a path to potential ruin and Glass has all kinds of fun updating and playing around with sleazy noir archetypes in this more garish period setting.

The Fall Guy is in cinemas from 2 May; Love Lies Bleeding is in cinemas from 3 May