August 14, 2021

Review: “Free Guy” is Unadulterated Video Game-Style Fun

If there’s anything Free Guy could’ve benefited from, it’s even more Ryan Reynolds.

In the film, Reynolds plays Guy, an NPC (Non-Player Character) in a hit video game character called Free City. If there’s one thing NPCs aren’t supposed to do, though, it’s wander off their pre-programmed daily script. That’s exactly what Guy does, much to the surprise and chagrin of the game’s programmer, Antoine (Taika Waititi). Despite some great Reynolds-isms (and renditions upon them) peppered throughout the film, he still oddly feels a bit restricted. As fun as Free Guy ends up being, I think there’s a case to be made for more of Reynolds’ signature charm.

That charm, by the way, is all over this movie. Even though he’s doing an innocent, happy-go-lucky, Will-Ferrell-from-Elf-type performance, the Ryan Reynolds we all know and love shines through, comedic sensibility and all. He’s easily one of the best parts of this movie — he has to be, as one of its main selling points.

In fact, all of the acting in Free Guy is unbridled fun. Jodie Comer plays Millie, a Free City player who is searching for an in-game method of winning a lawsuit against Antoine. Joe Keery is Keys, Millie’s former programming partner and a complaints employee for Free City, essentially playing Steve Harrington from Stranger Things as less of a jerk and more of a nerd. Also doing his typical par-for-the-course performance is Lil Rel Howery as Buddy, Guy’s…um…best friend. Finally, it should surprise no one that Taika Waititi absolutely knocks it out of the park as a money-grubbing gaming executive. First Hitler, now this — who knew?

As an NPC, Guy is quite literally made to follow the crowd and play out his predetermined loop. By the end of the film, the message of individualization is made overtly apparent, with little to no subtlety needed. But Free Guy is also a love story, on multiple levels. Director Shawn Levy brings skills acquired from Night at the Museum and Stranger Things to create a quasi-sci-fi/fantasy romance that both transcends and embraces clichés. There are things to love and things to roll your eyes at.

Despite being almost entirely about video games, Free Guy seems like it was crafted with a very basic understanding of the concept of video games themselves, without any deeper subtleties or unique qualities to differentiate Free City from any other open-world game. And, of course, with any story that takes place largely inside a video game, with characters from the game interacting with people from the real world, there are plot holes and inconsistencies galore, but I found them easy to overlook. It’s all in the name of fun.

Free Guy sought out to be fun, and that’s exactly what it turned out to be. Video game advertisements and terrible trailers aside, Free Guy has everything it needs to be a success: great leads, incredible visuals, a well-chosen soundtrack, some nice referential surprises and cameos, and the man himself, Ryan freaking Reynolds. There’s not much more that can be said, other than he’s on fire. I don’t even care that Disney rejected his Deadpool pre-film short, he’s a comedic mastermind — and I think the film could’ve benefited from even more of that sly comic talent. [Grade: A-]

Director: Shawn Levy
Writers: Matt Lieberman and Zak Penn
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Jodie Comer, Joe Keery, Taika Waititi, Lil Rel Howery
Rated: PG-13 for strong fantasy violence throughout, language and crude/suggestive references
Available: Theaters
Fun Fact: Free Guy is the final (posthumous) appearance by longtime Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek, who passed away in November 2020.

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