Carried by a surprisingly heavy performance from star Ryan Reynolds, “Free Guy” transcends many tropes of video game-inspired films to provide a fun, if somewhat shallow, experience.
The colorful and extravagant film is based on the age-old question of what constitutes life and free will. While philosophers have devoted thousands of years to this question, director Shawn Levy and Reynolds have decided to approach it from a whole different angle. Using the backdrop of a “Grand Theft Auto Online” style virtual world, “Free Guy” attempts to address the issue within the digital limits of artificial intelligence.
Reynolds plays “Guy”, a non-playable character in a video game that looks eerily – in concept, design, and “gameplay” – like “Grand Theft Auto Online” from Rockstar Games. In the game, players can join an online server to shoot each other, steal cars, and rob banks on various missions. Guy works in a bank which is literally robbed several times a day, but it seems quite normal to everyone. Guy cannot shake this idea of a woman he has seen in his dreams and has fallen in love with her. So when he bumps into Molotovgirl, played by “Killing Eve” star Jodie Comer, it triggers a whole new response in him that shatters the basics of the game.
Reynolds bounces between his cheerfully ignorant NPC personality and a much more “human” character throughout the film. It’s his performance, which is surprisingly restrained considering the material he has to work with, that helps the film succeed, even in some of its more cheesy moments. It’s his effortless moves and manners that sell Guy as a literal computer program character slowly becoming something more.
Comer does a useful job – bouncing between his leather-clad video game avatar and his much more natural real-world look. The script just doesn’t give her character a lot of work – especially when the film is based on her being the source of the romantic desires of two male characters – a macguffin that the film reveals with a failed attempt at suspense. miserably, as the twist is extremely obvious.
There are enough Easter eggs and gags to keep video game enthusiasts entertained. Sometimes “Free Guy” almost seems to want to copy “Ready Player One” with its multitude of pop culture cameos, but never manages to pull the trigger in a natural way. A surprising pair of cameos in the third act will almost certainly elicit a raucous response from audiences, but looking back, she’ll almost feel herself cringe. Let’s just say that “Space Jam: A New Legacy” isn’t the only movie to tap its studio catalog for a few fanboys.
“Free Guy” sounds like the kind of movie that isn’t made very often these days. It tells a full story that feels like it’s over as the credits roll. It’s healthy and fun for the whole family – telling a great story with a great meaning behind it. The surprising amount of action is well directed and bright and lively. Much of the film feels like a live-action video game – not in the same vein as a live-action adaptation like “Resident Evil,” but more of a love letter to the games. On paper, there are a lot of issues with this premise, but Reynolds and Levy make sure to create perhaps the most surprisingly enjoyable movie of the year.
“Free Guy” is now in theaters.
Josh Rouse lives in Lawton and writes a weekly review for The Lawton Constitution.