Film Review: Free Guy
Director: Shawn Levy
21 Laps Entertainment
In Theaters 08.13
The “based on a video game” genre has never been too successful in terms of quality. And for that matter, movies about video games have been hit-and-miss. But the latest attempt, director Shawn Levy’s Free Guy, manages to score a lot of points.
In Free Guy, Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool, The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard) plays Guy, a bank teller who lives a passive existence in Free City, a world where people running around shooting each other on the street is just part of the daily routine. The people who wear sunglasses are the cool ones who get things done. Guy dreams of meeting the perfect woman, but nothing about his life seems to change, until one day, he sees the woman of his dreams (Jodie Comer, Killing Eve) on the street.
The woman goes by the handle Molotov Girl, but she is actually Millie, a player inside the game where Guy lives as a nonplayer character. She’s also a programmer, and along with her partner, Keys (Joe Keery, Stranger Things, Spree), created the program behind Free City. Guy sees her on the street and keeps following her until he finally puts on a pair of sunglasses, finds himself able to see things he’s never seen before, and starts to level up. But when the people of Free City are threatened, Guy and Millie will have to save the world together and learn the truth about who they both really are.
Free Guy is a blast from start to finish, overflowing with whimsical charm. Levy (Night at the Museum, Real Steel) has never been a darling among critics, having been paired with weak material a few too many times, but he’s got skills with action and comedy. Free Guy is the script he’s been looking for all these years.
Reynolds is in top form, playing a character who is closer in personality to Will Ferrell in Elf than to Deadpool, and Free Guy is easily the best star vehicle he’s found outside of that franchise. Comer gives what is likely to be the first of two breakout star performances this year if the trailers for Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel are any indication. She’s as important to making the film work as Reynolds is and has plenty of chemistry with both Reynolds and Keery.
Lil Rel Howery (Get Out) is endearing as Guy’s best friend, Buddy. If there’s a weak link in the impressive cast, I’m very sorry to say that it’s actually Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit) as Antwan, a villainous video game mogul. I love Waititi, but he’s given a brash and obnoxious poseur character, and while he has his moments, his presence feels like a gimmick, and I just didn’t buy him in the role.
The script by Matt Lieberman (The Christmas Chronicles) and Zak Penn (Ready Player One) brings to mind both The Truman Show and Stranger Than Fiction, and while it’s uneven and a tad on the derivative side, it’s clever enough and sweet enough to come together. My biggest complaint with Free Guy would be the unnecessary inclusion of some shameless plugs for Disney intellectual property. Between this and Space Jam: A New Legacy, the growing trend of using a film to advertise other films is one I’d liked to see nipped in the bud.
But all in all, while Free Guy is definitely light blockbuster fare, it’s one of the most enjoyable blockbusters of the summer. I found myself a lot more invested in the story than I expected to be, feeling actual suspense as to where things were going. It’s a thoroughly entertaining movie that should play to gamers and nongamers alike, and it’s your best bet for a fun August blockbuster. –Patrick Gibbs