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‘The Fall Guy’ doesn’t reach the heights needed to make a really big splash

<i>Courtesy Universal Pictures via CNN Newsource</i><br/>Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt star in
Courtesy Universal Pictures via CNN Newsource
Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt star in "The Fall Guy."

Review by Brian Lowry, CNN

(CNN) — Superhero movies have seen better days at the box office, but an action-comedy based on a 1980s TV show still feels like an unlikely candidate to kick off the summer. Buoyed by the lure of what Ryan Gosling can do for a post-“Barbie” encore (or Ken-core), “The Fall Guy” is too flat in the early going to fully meet that challenge, rallying toward the end without reaching the heights required to make a really big splash.

At its best, director David Leitch (“Deadpool 2”) has served up a movie defined by its love for the movies, and specifically, the stunt work where he cut his professional teeth before shifting into the big chair. In that sense, the TV series that starred Lee Majors (a show most memorable for its theme song, which is featured) creates a very loose template to set up a vehicle about a stuntman whose troubles spill off the screen into real life, forcing him to put his skills to use dealing with real bad guys.

Getting there requires some buildup, with Gosling’s Colt Seavers introduced serving as the stunt double for a typically self-absorbed star, Tom Ryder (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), while becoming involved with Jody (Emily Blunt), a fellow member of the crew.

An accident derails Colt’s plans and indeed life, and time passes before he’s called out of retirement by Gail (“Ted Lasso’s” Hannah Waddingham), the fast-talking, troubleshooting producer on all of Ryder’s films. Of course, he’d probably stay safely at home if the space epic in question didn’t mark Jody’s directing debut, offering the prospect of a reunion that, naturally, doesn’t go as smoothly as he hoped.

There are also hidden reasons for the renewed interest in Colt, which has to do with offscreen shenanigans and Ryder becoming involved with some nefarious characters. That forces Colt into what amounts to private-eye mode, using his movie-trained skills to get himself both into and out of perilous situations.

Setting all that up, including the romance, results in some arid stretches between the elaborate stunts, which are ultimately the main source of “The Fall Guy’s” appeal and certainly its comedy. Gosling imbues Colt with a goofy charm and amusing neediness, but the underlying premise was a trifle strained even back in the Reagan era, and putting the whole thing on steroids for the movies doesn’t completely address those issues.

“The Fall Guy” thus stands out primarily for smaller moments and wrinkles, such as Colt’s boss (Winston Duke) constantly quoting movie lines to him, Taylor-Johnson sounding a whole lot like Matthew McConaughey, and a stunt dog trained to respond to French, including an especially juvenile command.

Perhaps foremost, “The Fall Guy” feels burdened by the weight of expectations and its positioning as a major blockbuster when the movie really operates as a light-hearted ode to the unknown stuntman, in a way that’s basically just amiably OK. Gosling has broad shoulders, but trying to make it anything more than that is, even for him, a heavy lift.

“The Fall Guy” premieres May 3 in US theaters. It’s rated PG-13.

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