On Set: Double feature! Challengers and The Fall Guy

KHOL film critic Jeff Counts reviews two films that are vying to be the first hits of the summer popcorn season.

by | May 8, 2024 | Culture, Film & TV

There are certainly many ways to get an audience’s attention during the jam-packed summer movie months. You can go for big action, big scares, big mysteries, big laughs and even big blushes with the racier stuff. But big intellectual ideas and big artistic statements are not necessary, perhaps not even welcome. Not in the summer anyhow, which I would argue has already begun in theaters. Two films that hope to cash in on our desire for straightforward fun in the sun are Luca Guadagnino’s “Challengers” and David Leitch’s “The Fall Guy”. First up is the tennis love triangle drama “Challengers.”

“Challengers” is outwardly a story about professional tennis. It depicts the sport from the diverging perspectives of a celebrated champion, a middling journeyman and a player of early promise who never got the chance to be either. But you know, if you’ve seen any of the marketing, that this is really a torrid study of love, lust and loyalty. Mike Faist and Josh O’Connor play Art and Patrick, two affable “Brosefs” who meet Tashi, played by Zendaya, on the junior circuit and spark the competitive interest in her that defines the entire movie. The three go in very different ways, tennis-wise, but their link to one another remains strong. And problematic. Guadagnino tells the story with effective, expertly executed time jumps and Marco Costa’s editing is first-class throughout. But while the script does a pretty good job of elevating Tashi above the status of a ball the boys hit back and forth, it doesn’t always. Her individuality, her agency and her fierceness seem like important goals of Guadagnino’s directing and Zendaya’s acting, but even their great work can’t keep her from being an object. The film’s ill-advised final scene is particularly unfortunate in this regard. The movie is good before we get to that moment, very good, and the tennis (for what it’s worth) is punchy and believable. I just wish Luca had ended it two minutes sooner. The perfect moment was right there for the taking. Next up is something a little different…

“The Fall Guy”, based loosely on the Lee Majors television show from the 80s, is also a tale of complicated love with a red-hot cast. But the similarities end there. Director David Leitch has brought the world of stunts from the set to the screen in this hilarious addition to Hollywood’s list of films about films. Leitch knows what he’s talking about, having spent decades doubling the likes of Brad Pitt and Matt Damon. It’s amazing to the stunt craft we take for granted invited forward, and he was clearly the right director for it. Ryan Gosling portrays Colt Seavers, the stuntman at the center of both Leitch’s movie and the godawful sci-fi thriller Emily Blunt’s character Jody is making in “The Fall Guy”. Jody and Colt had a thing once, but it was interrupted by an accident, and they’ve been forced back into each other’s lives after a couple of silent years for nefarious reasons that become obvious soon enough. The chemistry between Gosling and Blunt is perfection. They are charming together, funny together and utterly convincing together. I could say that about the entire movie. It works on every level. All the jokes and action set pieces land, and the enthusiasm the characters maintain for their crappy project while trying to solve a ridiculous mystery is so guileless and endearing, it reminds me why I love movies so much.

My two not-so-secret passions, if you must know, are movies and tennis. So, this was a fun double feature for me. Both films are excellent, one effortlessly so while the other struggles through to it. I’m excited about what “Challengers” and “The Fall Guy” predict for the summer. If this bar can be reached on a regular basis, we are in for many treats.

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About Jeff Counts

Before moving to Jackson in 2019, Jeff spent five years reviewing movies as co-host of the public access television program "Big Movie Mouth-Off." When not focused on film, Jeff writes about opera and co-hosts the classical music interview podcast "Ghost Light."

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