Ryan Gosling in The Fall Guy


At least two of the most significant people in my life share a favorite movie type that one of them classifies as “the no-brainer,” meaning an entertainment meant to be consumed without the messy intrusion of active thought. While I don't share their love for this “genre,” I certainly understand the motivation behind seeking it out, and can confidently state that director David Leitch's The Fall Guy is a no-brainer to the nth degree, given that its considerable appeal is right there on the surface. The leads are attractive and charming. The action is swift and loud. The jokes are unmissable. And if you spend more than five seconds thinking about any of it, the whole thing crumbles like a particularly flimsy house of cards.

An undisguised love letter to the stunt-team community, Leitch's and screenwriter Drew Pearce's film is loosely adapted from the TV series of the same title, which aired on ABC from 1981 to '86 and starred Lee Majors and Heather Thomas as stunt performers who, week after week, accepted side gigs as bounty hunters. Now that was a no-brainer – a show that could be easily digested, and moderately enjoyed, while washing dishes, paying bills, or, in my case, doing homework. You could miss half the episode and know you weren't missing a thing. Audiences may have to pay a bit more attention to Leitch's The Fall Guy, if only to understand why, for instance, a unicorn is appearing in the background of certain Ryan Gosling scenes, or why Emily Blunt is speaking on the phone donning Predator-esque latex gloves. (You might also need awareness of Majors' previous involvement to glean why the famed Six Million Dollar Man sound effect gets a meaningless plug here.) Then again, who cares? Aren't Ryan and Emily adorable? Aren't those slow-motion jumps cool? Isn't this fun?! For the record, my answers to those last three questions are “yes,” “yes,” and “not as much as I hoped.”

Sharing the name of Majors' small-screen character, Gosling plays action-stunt veteran Colt Seavers, who, not long after the movie opens, sustains a major on-the-job injury that causes him to vanish from the Hollywood scene, as well as from the life of his girlfriend Jody Moreno (Blunt). With Colt now living a dead-end existence as a parking valet, 18 months pass before he's called by producer Gail Meyer (Hannah Waddingham), and asked to resume his former career on an in-production sci-fi-Western blockbuster that Jody happens to be directing. Missing his ex and believing that Jody requested his participation, Colt lands on set to find that his involvement was Gail's machination and Jody wants nothing to do with him. He also learns that Gail hired him with ulterior motives: The film's marquee star Tom Ryder (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), for whom Colt routinely performed stunts, is missing and in presumed danger, and the authorities can't get involved, and only Colt can track the guy down.

Hannah Waddingham and Emily Blunt in The Fall Guy

That gets us roughly 20 minutes into Pearce's narrative, and because I made the mistake of actually processing what I was watching as I watched it, I already had about a dozen questions for The Fall Guy that would never be sufficiently answered. We're told that the opening stunt that derailed Colt's career led to a broken back, and when we see the man shirtless, he has two heavy bolts or pins attached to either side of his spine. Was Colt at all worried about what returning to stuntwork might do to his body? Were his doctors concerned? It turns out the issue is moot, because for all of Colt's death-defying activities over the course of the film – his first stunt has him performing a record-setting eight-and-a-half cannon rolls in a Jeep Grand Cherokee – the toll taken on his back is never once referenced. Whatever. It's Ryan Gosling, and he can do anything, so like that Jeep, we just roll with it.

But what are we to make of the ludicrous premise that Colt is the only person who can find the missing Tom – a claim based solely on Cole having stunt-subbed for the superstar in a number of movies? Colt himself tells us (in voice-over) that the guy is a douche, and they don't hang out; he would seemingly have even less knowledge of how to find Tom than his housekeeping staff would. This nonsense is theoretically explained away with Gail saying that Jody's project, her big-screen directing debut, will be canceled if Tom doesn't turn up, and maybe we can go with the idea that Colt is so heartsick that he'll do anything to make sure Jody's first film isn't her last.

It's still a considerable stretch, and this plot conceit leads to any number of dopey sequences that are big on stunts but abjectly lacking in logic: the brutal apartment fight between Colt and the film-within-the-film's leading lady Iggy Starr (Teresa Palmer); the druggy, slow-motion nightclub melee; the street chase that finds Colt and his assailants duking it out in a spinning dumpster. That latter routine, at least, is a pretty enjoyable watch – or rather, it would've been were it weren't showcased in The Fall Guy's most badly edited scene, with shots of the midtown peril interspersed with Jody performing a karaoke cover of Phil Collins' Against All Odds theme song. I don't know what Leitch was thinking here. After an hour-plus of well-executed yet fundamentally standard choreography, he finally gives us a truly imaginative set piece, and every time the spinning-dumpster craziness nears a crescendo, there's Emily Blunt to sing at us again.

Emily Blunt and Ryan Gosling in The Fall Guy

At this point, I should probably mention that the rom-com-iness of Leitch's outing succeeds beautifully, and that Gosling and Blunt share all the sweetly biting rapport they hinted at on this year's Oscars and during Gosling's opening monologue for SNL. The stars do something essential for big-screen romantic fireworks to detonate – they convince us that Colt and Jody not only love each other, but really really like each other – and their chemistry is evident even in the modestly clever, too self-satisfied Pillow Talk homage that finds Gosling and Blunt flirting via split-screen. Sadly, though, the plotting reduces Jody to something of an afterthought, and our affection for the character is mildly sullied by the fact that the Metalstorm blockbuster she's shooting – a “personal project” that's apparently some sort of Independence Day and Cowboys vs. Aliens hybrid – looks irredeemably awful. You can't imagine even the no-brainer demographic falling for the dross we see in production, and with the talent involved including the cartoonishly stupid Gail, Tom, and Iggy, surely Oscars weren't in Jody's future so much as Razzies.

For a work solely composed of surface pleasures, there are a number of them to be found beyond Leitch's ultra-agreeable leads and intensely hard-working stunt team: the lightly sardonic Winston Duke as Jody's stunt coordinator; the ever-welcome if totally underused Stephanie Hsu; the Australian locales that include exterior shots of the Sydney Opera House, which, after this film and Anyone but You, is clearly now the mandatory destination for romantic comedies. We also receive some valuable insight into the questionable art of cinematic deep-fakery, although its climactic employment raises another dozen-or-so unanswered questions, primarily: Can we not only believably deep-fake faces now, but entire torsos? And certainly, The Fall Guy's failings aren't debilitating, given that the movie only wants to entertain and remind us, in every scene, how stunt performers are the unsung heroes of Hollywood. (When asked if Oscars are awarded for stunts, Colt shakes his head and repeats “no” with such earnest fervor that I half-expected him to deliver a final “not yet” directly to the camera, and then wink.) I still left the theater wanting more – more singular stunts, more legitimate stakes, more sense. By all means, turn your brain off and enjoy. Just don't be surprised if you find yourself underwhelmed after it's turned back on.

Anne Hathaway and Nicholas Galitzine in The Idea of You


In quite the weekend for rom-com fans, the cineplex debut of The Fall Guy landed on the same day as the Prime Video debut of The Idea of You, and it, too, might've seemed a quintessential no-brainer if Anne Hathaway's gorgeous performance didn't demand that you give her work legitimate consideration.

Based on a 2017 novel by actress/author Robinne Lee, Jennifer Westfeldt's and director Michael Showalter's screenplay boasts a genre premise so inevitable I can't believe it hadn't arrived sooner: What if the 20-something member of a super-popular British boy band fell in love with a woman twice his age? Hathaway plays art-gallery owner Solène Marchand, who, after being strong-armed into accompanying her teen daughter Izzy (Ella Rubin) to Coachella, finds herself experiencing a Meet Cute with Hayes Campbell (Nicholas Galitzine), whose pop group August Moon was Izzy's favorite when the girl was 12. (In a nice touch, she now finds the group so five years ago.) Hayes is instantly smitten, Solène is flattered, a love song is performed on-stage to a secret audience of one … . You can see where this is going. You can also see how it's going, as Showalter's direction doesn't deviate from formula one iota, delivering all the initial embarrassment, playful getting-to-know-yous, romantic montages, and storyline crises precisely when and in the manner you expect. It's the sort of thing that really only flies with magically matched leads, and unfortunately, The Idea of You is lacking on that front, too. He's certainly cute and puppy-dog eager. But “magnetic” and even “interesting” still seem beyond Galitzine's grasp – he was just as dull in last year's Prime Video rom-com hit Red, White, & Royal Blue – and that makes the earnestly acted central relationship here feel lopsided.

All that being said, I was still perfectly content to sit through the two overlong hours of Showalter's latest just to watch Anne Hathaway in her element, and in her prime. She was, of course, radiant even as a teenager. The added decades, however, have only enriched her presence and easy confidence, and she's ideally cast as a smart, sensible mother and career professional who acknowledges the stupidity of embarking on an affair with someone close to her daughter's age but refuses to let her head dictate the actions of her heart. Hathaway floods the screen with feeling, and even when the material leads to the expected beats – How will Izzy and Solène's ex-husband (Reid Scott) react? How will Hayes' bandmates react? How will the media circus and August Moon's Instagramaniacs react? – the star finds fresh avenues of joy, misery, and grace to explore and share. It's hardly a work of much depth, but The Idea of You handles its rom-com conceit with admirable sincerity, and provides a deserving showcase for a performer who, despite her Oscar, still seems wildly underrated for being the expressive, deeply empathetic talent she is. Twenty-three years after playing a princess, we still want Anne Hathaway to get her Happily Ever After.

Jacob Batalon in Tarot


As much as I (mostly) enjoyed the horror franchise back in the day, I can't say that I've spent much of the last 13 years thinking back to the Final Destination series, which took a fate-will-find-a-way approach to gruesome executions through elaborately designed, ridiculous, frequently hilarious “accidents” that shared the same moral: You can cheat Death, but only for now. Through the whole of writer/directors Spenser Cohen's and Anna Halberg's new fright flick Tarot, however, I'm not sure I stopped thinking about the five Final Destinations even once. This thing is practically screaming for an FD-like presentation, and as in the outer space of Ridley Scott's Alien, apparently no one can hear it.

The gist here is that a septet of interchangeably unremarkable college students rent a Tara-like mansion in the Catskills, run out of booze, and decide to while away the hours having their fortunes read through a borrowed series of tarot cards. Their futures seem relatively benign until the kids return to school and, one by one, begin perishing in ways kinda-sorta forecast in the readings; one guy's warning to not “go down the wrong track” leads to him perishing in an abandoned train terminal – that type of thing. This seemed like a completely reasonable fright-film setup, especially considering we were informed that the principal rule of tarot is to never read cards belonging to someone else. (Way to ensure continually escalating sales, Big Tarot!) But while I was all set to give up on Cohen's and Halberg's movie after seeing the palatial size of the Catskills manor that was evidently now an Airbnb, and discovering that the college students had consumed a filled Hefty bag worth of booze yet still weren't noticeably drunk, it was only professional obligation that kept me from bolting the auditorium with the first murder. It's not that the killing was gross. It's that it was inane.

In the Final Destinations, the nasty thrill came from characters miraculously avoiding grim fates and learning, tragically, that Fate never lost their numbers; they were meant to die, and now they're gonna die, and Fate doesn't need a boogeyman to make that happen. Tarot is all boogeyman. One by one at the start, our protagonists (I can't summon the will to call these personality-deprived youths “heroes”) have their futures read in the cards, and articulated signifiers reveal the means by which they'll meet their ends. Yet when the deaths inevitably occur, the hints we were given regarding the “how” of their eventual executions – the sole element that might've given the narrative some kick – prove completely immaterial, as it's always a fearsome, clawed, shrieking monstrosity that scares the kids into their sealed fates. And I'm sorry to say, this thing isn't the least bit scary. It's just noisy, and there's consequently no enjoyment in watching the supernatural creature do its diabolical business. Why set up themed tarot deaths at all if they're not going to be distinct? I suspected that Tarot would be indifferently acted and poorly written, so that was no surprise. I had no idea this boring and just-plain-lazy outing was going to make me nostalgic not only for the Final Destinations, but for the comparative panache of the only-slightly-less-awful Ouija.

Melissa McCarthy, Jerry Seinfeld, and Jim Gaffigan in Unfrosted


Good God, does Jerry Seinfeld have a lot of famous friends. That was my thought all throughout his new-to-Netflix writing/directing feature debut Unfrosted, because when you spend 90 minutes watching a comedy that doesn't make you laugh once, your mind just naturally goes elsewhere. Truth be told, the time is ripe for a faux account of the Pop-Tart's creation, as the past year-plus has already treated us to decidedly less wacky origin stories for Air Jordans, the BlackBerry, and the Flamin' Hot Cheeto. Yet while I'll grant Seinfeld's pushy yuk-fest points for timeliness and a Mel Brooks-ian who-gives-a-shit silliness, I have to immediately dock them for the film's almost shocking amateurishness. Despite the presence of what looks like an anthropomorphic ravioli noodle, Unfrosted looks and, astoundingly, plays like something Seinfeld shot in one of his homes' cavernous basements over a long weekend. You can easily imagine the host cajoling his pals during a holiday get-together: “Hey, you got a few minutes to kill? Come downstairs! I'll give you a script!”

If my general distaste for Jerry Seinfeld is reading this early into the piece … . Yeah. I'm not a fan. I liked his sitcom well enough and am still not a fan. As anticipated, Seinfeld plays his Unfrosted lead – a Kellogg's employee who sees the value in a pastry-based breakfast alternative – with the same air of italicized, whiny detachment that he's been foisting on us for the better part of 40 years. What I didn't anticipate was that his script (co-written by Spike Feresten, Andy Robin, and Barry Marder) would so fully quash the gifts of literally dozens of additionally famed actors and comedians, almost none of whom look like they're happy to be there. In the best-case scenarios, we're barely able to recognize a few of them: Kyle Mooney, Mikey Day, and Drew Tarver don't have long-enough closeups to adequately identify them as Rice Krispies mascots Snap, Crackle, and Pop, and I needed an end-credits reveal to inform me that Borat Subsequent Moviefilm Oscar nominee Maria Bakalova appeared in a scene. (Lucky her.) But secondary lead Melissa McCarthy's every reading suggests her awareness that she was much better off in the movies her husband Ben Falcone directed (imagine!), while Amy Schumer and Max Greenfield perform grim routines as breakfast magnate Marjorie Post and her dimwitted assistant.

Hugh Grant in Unfrosted

What's that? You want more, you masochists? Jim Gaffigan is the head of Kellogg's. Hugh Grant is the Shakespearean ham recruited to voice (and, for nonsensical reasons, appear in the costume of) Tony the Tiger. Peter Dinklage and Christian Slater are crafty milk hustlers. For reasons passing understanding, James Marsden is fitness guru Jack LaLane. Bobby Moynihan is Chef Boy Ardee. For historical '60s context, I suppose, Bill Burr is John F. Kennedy, Dean Norris is Nikita Khrushchev, Dan Levy is Andy Warhol, and Kyle Dunnigan performs double-duty as Walter Cronkite and Johnny Carson. Jack McBrayer, Thomas Lennon, Tony Hale, Sebastian Maniscalco, Beck Bennett, Fred Armisen, and Cedric the Entertainer all show up. Seriously: Not one laugh from any of them. And just when I thought Seinfeld's cinematic ego trip couldn't get more extraneous or offensive, in pop Jon Hamm and John Slattery as advertising geniuses with a foolproof plan for selling Kellogg's latest innovation. We wait nearly a decade for a Man Men reunion and we get this?!

I'm fully aware that a mere recounting of the cast list might make make any reasonable viewer want to seek out Seinfeld's Netflix offering immediately, because really: How bad could it be? Let me just say that even if you can get through the soft-core-porn montage of cereal consumption without wanting to throw up in your mouth, Unfrosted is the most spectacularly unfunny all-star turd I've sat through since 2013's Movie 43 – that notorious collection of vignettes starring Kate Winslet, Halle Berry, Emma Stone, and dozens of additional talents who haven't won Oscars. And that was maybe the worst thing I've seen in nearly 56 years of movie-going. The only performers here who don't appear thoroughly humiliated by the goings-on are the impressively, joyously confident Eleanor Sweeney and Bailey Sheetz as a pair of unapologetic dumpster divers. Neither of them can be a day over 10. They're too young for humiliation.

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