Producers: Kelly McCormick, David Leitch, Ryan Gosling and Guymon Casady   Director: David Leitch Screenplay: Drew Pearceh   Cast: Ryan Gosling, Emily Blunt, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Winston Duke, Hannah Waddingham, Teresa Palmer, Stephanie Hsu, Ben Knight and Matuse   Distributor: Universal

Grade: C-

Trying to send up romantic action comedies by actually making one proves the undoing of David Leitch’s “The Fall Guy,” a hectic, exhausting misfire that’s far less clever than it thinks it is.  In trying to balance humor, rom-com cliché, mystery and stunt-driven mayhem with low-key satire, Drew Pearceh’s script comes up short in all departments: the jokes are juvenile, the romance prefabricated, the crime plot sloppy, the action excessively violent and the parody feeble.  By aiming to do too much, and doing it poorly, the would-be blockbuster amounts to very little.

In the movie, inspired loosely by the eighties TV series starring Lee Majors and Heather Thomas (who have brief cameos in it), Ryan Gosling, at his smugly chipper best (that is, worst), is stuntman Colt Seavers, the ever-reliable screen stand-in for arrogant superstar Tom Ryder (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) whenever a screenplay calls for anything physically dangerous.  When Ryder and producer Gail Meyer (Hannah Washington) call upon him to do a second take of a long fall off a balcony, the stunt goes wrong and Colt breaks his back.  Depressed, he summarily cuts off ties with his Hollywood colleagues, and after rehab though he’s no longer broken in body he’s emotionally still a wreck, since among those he’d excluded from his life was Jody Moreno (Emily Brent), not just a talented cinematographer but the girlfriend he still pines over.

Eighteen months after the accident, Colt, now a shaggy slacker, is working a nothing job as a valet parking attendant at a swanky restaurant when he gets a call from Gail, who’s producing Jody’s first directorial effort, a special-effects extravaganza called “Metalstorm” about the romance between a cowboy played by Ryder and an alien girl played by one Iggy Starr (Teresa Palmer).  They’re having trouble with the stuntman who replaced Colt as Ryder’s go-to guy, and, she insists, Jody’s asked for his help.  Could he come to Australia, where the movie’s being shot? Of course Colt’s off to the airport ASAP.

But when he arrives in Sydney, Colt finds that Jody is surprised by his reappearance and still miffed at how he’d ditched her after the accident.  Luckily she’s not involved with anybody else, but while using his talents on the set (sometimes to excess as punishment), she makes it clear—briefly, of course—that she’s not inclined to rekindle their off-screen relationship.  Meanwhile Gail begs Colt to help in finding Tom, who’s disappeared.  Since his absence threatens to derail Jody’s movie altogether, he agrees.

From this point the plot degenerates into an extended fight-and-chase display in which poor Colt is forced to put all his skills—and his ability to withstand punishment—to the test.  He discovers a corpse, which turns out to be a murder victim, and is framed for the killing.  He has to face off against Starr, who turns out to be a pretty dextrous swordswoman, as well as an army of thugs headed by a vicious brute named Drexler (Ben Knight), who appears to have as many lives as the catlike Cole, given how often he rises from the ashes (in one instance, apparently literally) to threaten him again.  And Colt can’t be certain of whom to trust, be it hyperactive motor-mouth Gail or his old pal Dan (Winston Duke), the stunt coordinator on “Metalstorm.”  He also has to contend with a drug lord named Doone (Matuse) and a dog called Jean Claude that only responds to French commands and has a penchant for attacking men’s crotches (har, har).  Of course he will be able to depend on Jody, who by day two is once more mad about him, and some of the others too, but the deck seems stacked against him as the villains pursue the frazzled hero with lethal intent and the authorities finger him as a murderer (though for some reason they’re virtually absent from the action). 

As the convoluted plot grinds on, the level of nastiness escalates (there’s some very real violence as Colt is captured and beaten), and the vehicular chases (cars, trucks, boats) are often more grueling than amusingly over-the-top.  There are plenty of explosions, too, especially in the concluding set-piece, in which Colt retrieves evidence of his innocence (and the villains’ guilt) through an elaborate stunt in which Jody, with whom he’s now entirely reconciled, is his chief collaborator.  By this time “The Fall Guy” has become nothing other than a protracted talent reel for the stuntmen’s union, extending into the final credits, festooned with outtake clips of the stunts being done for the movie; but there is a coda, with a cameo by a famous star, that suggests that the completed “Metalstorm” has become a huge hit (though the sharpest bit of satire in the picture is that Jody’s debut—which throughout is treated with ludicrous seriousness as an important work of cinema, likely to inspire other female filmmakers–looks to be an utter piece of garbage that could rival John Travolta’s “Battlefield Earth” or Zach Snyder’s “Rebel  Moon” in wretchedness).

Gosling gives his all here, physically, and occasionally his playfulness is disarming; too often, though, he’s annoyingly smart-ass.  Blunt has much less opportunity; she comes across as curiously bland, and her chemistry with Gosling barely reaches a simmer, let alone a boil.  Taylor-Johnson and Waddingham are simply awful, encouraged by Leitch to play everything at a desperate fever pitch; it’s not their fault that their scenes are totally laugh-free, since the script gives them nothing to work with.  Duke and Stephanie Tsu, as Ryder’s assistant, fare better simply because they’re more restrained than those surrounding them, and the two Australian Kelpies that play Jean Claude do a fine job. 

On the technical level the film looks a mite rough and ready, without the ultimate slickness of the later “John Wick” movies (Leitch directed only the first, scruffier, installment of that series).  But production designer David Scheunemann and cinematographer Jonathan Sera make decent use of the Sydney locations (the famous opera house gets a real workout), and costumer Sarah Evelyn brings lots of cheesiness to the alien getups on the “Metalstorm” set (the cowboy’s duds are loony, too).  Dominic Lewis’ score is expectedly loud.  The stunt work, of course, is stellar, if you find that sort of thing invigorating, though it often comes across as rather too ferocious for this supposedly feel-good context.

But even if you’re am aficionado of stunt action, you might agree that editor Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir offers way too much of the stuff.  Leitch intends the movie as a love letter to the occupation he once was part of, but he’s gone overboard with it here. (The picture runs more than two hours.)  Instead of being exhilarated by “The Fall Guy,” you’re might leave it feeling pulverized.