The underside of a Sydney garbage truck is just one place you’ll find Ryan Gosling in The Fall Guy. Photo by Eric Laciste

We don’t appreciate stunt performers enough, and I say that as a guy who will spend an idle five minutes watching movie and TV shootouts and car chases on YouTube. (I’ve never seen Gangs of London, but some of that show’s fight sequences are pretty insane.) Perhaps no one is better equipped to pay tribute to them than David Leitch, a former stuntman who has become the more-than-capable director of Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2, and Hobbs & Shaw. The movie version of The Fall Guy is his homage to his former profession, and it’s catnip for all of us who think stunt performers should have their own category at the Oscars.

Much like the 1980s TV show that it’s based on, the movie’s main character is a Hollywood stuntman named Colt Seavers (Ryan Gosling). It’s a death-defying life he leads as the exclusive stunt double for international megastar Tom Ryder (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) until the day Colt breaks his back plummeting down the interior of a skyscraper for the cameras. Two years later, Tom’s producer (Hannah Waddingham) calls Colt out of the blue, urgently needing him to come to Australia to the set of Tom’s latest movie — an alien-invasion epic called Metalstorm — because Tom has vanished. In addition to locating and retrieving the missing movie star and also doing stunts for Tom again, Colt also reconnects with Don (Winston Duke), an old colleague-turned-stunt coordinator, and with Jody (Emily Blunt), his ex-girlfriend and a camera operator making her debut as a director.

Though the movie is set in the present day, the filmmakers score the movie largely with 1980s songs, appropriately enough. Jody lets out her feelings about Colt ghosting her in an angry karaoke rendition of “Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now),” and when Colt makes what he thinks is a farewell phone call to her during a boat chase in Sydney Harbour, the backing of YUNGBLUD’s Bond theme-like cover of “I Was Made for Lovin’ You” is somehow perfect. The one contemporary song is when Colt weeps over his broken romance to the sounds of Taylor Swift’s “All Too Well.” Since you’re wondering, you won’t hear the TV show’s theme song until the closing credits, where Blake Shelton covers it.

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This movie is transparently about the stunts, and it’s well that Leitch and his stunt team (for the record, Gosling’s stunts are done by Logan Holladay, Ben Jenkin, Justin Eaton, and Troy Lindsay Brown, and the fights are choreographed by Jonathan Eusebio) deliver so memorably, as when Colt and Don have to fight off a squad of mercenaries with a room full of rubber tomahawks and guns that fire blank charges. Some of the humor has fit awkwardly in Leitch’s earlier thrillers, but here the laughs sit easily thanks to screenwriter Drew Pearce, who worked with Leitch on Hobbs & Shaw. He and the actors contribute a slow-rolling comedy bit when Jody harangues Colt about the plot of her movie (which closely resembles their own broken romance) while her crew members repeatedly set Colt on fire and yank him backwards with cables to simulate an explosion throwing him against a boulder. How’s that for revenge on an ex-boyfriend? The background extras dressed as space aliens reacting to the relationship drama are just the extra touch the scene needs.

Leitch’s love for showcasing stunts only gets him into trouble during the climactic scene, when our heroes have to fight the bad guys on the set of Metalstorm. It involves a car jump, a helicopter taking off amid explosions, and Colt taking a 150-foot fall onto an air mattress, and it’s altogether too much of a good thing. The Fall Guy is better when it’s letting us in on the little details about how stunt performers do their jobs, like when Colt is instructed to roll a Jeep during a car chase on a beach, and he feels the sand between his fingers before objecting that the sand is too loose and dry for the stunt. Bits of observation like that make us appreciate it all the more when Colt fights a henchman in a dumpster being pulled along the street by a garbage truck. That’s how this salute to the entertainment industry’s unrecognized foot soldiers takes flight.

The Fall Guy
Starring Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt. Directed by David Leitch. Written by Drew Pearce, based on Glen A. Larson’s TV series. Rated PG-13.