CAST: Ryan Reynolds, Jodie Comer, Lil Rel Howery, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Joe Keery, Taika Waititi, Camille Kostek
RUNNING TIME: 115 mins
BASICALLY…: A bank teller (Reynolds) discovers that he is a background character in an open-world video game…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
Video game movies often tend to be mediocre at best, while movies about video games are usually a lot more fun and entertaining. Over the years, audience-friendly hits like Wreck-It Ralph, Ready Player One, The Wizard and as recently as Space Jam: A New Legacy have all had fun with exploring the familiar patterns and controls of video games without necessarily being tied down to any one IP in particular, something which benefits Free Guy to no end.
In fact, director Shawn Levy’s high-concept action-comedy is a downright lovable exercise in mining the tropes of open-world games for laughs while also having a really strong sense of heart, which makes it entertaining enough to distract from its own occasional sense of familiarity.
Free Guy is set in the world of Free City, an open-world game that takes place in a city where car chases, gunfire, massive explosions and bank robberies are all part of the norm for its non-player characters. One such NPC is Guy (Ryan Reynolds), a blue-shirted bank teller with an eternal optimism to brighten nearly everyone’s day (except, of course, the players who are constantly robbing his bank), and whose blissful ignorance of his true existence is interrupted by the arrival of “Molotov Girl” (Jodie Comer), the virtual avatar of disgruntled game developer Millie (also Comer) who is scouring Free City for evidence of her and former partner Keys (Joe Keery)’s own game being plagiarised by bullish developer Antwan (Taika Waititi). Deciding to break from his regular programming, Guy starts to become a hero on his own terms, inspiring the gamers of the real world and proving to be both a serious nuisance to Antwan, and a potential breakthrough for Millie and Keys’ own ambitions.
One of the numerous films inherited by Disney following its purchase of 20th Century Studios (née Fox), Free Guy oddly enough does feel like a natural fit for the Disney wheelhouse. If Wreck-It Ralph didn’t already exist, you could easily see this concept be turned into one of their animated films, as it’s certainly bright and optimistic, crowd-pleasing to a fault, and filled with plenty of background Easter eggs to satisfy plenty of gamers out there watching. The movie even contains a few direct references to a couple of notable Disney-owned properties, and unexpected cameos from some of them that are certain to bring the house down – admittedly, you can see Disney’s thumbprints all over those parts, but say what you will about them as a company, they do at least know how to please their audience when the time comes for it, no matter how self-referential they need to become (it worked well enough for Ralph Breaks The Internet).
Even without the clear Disney influence, Free Guy packs a considerable amount of fun into its equally bright premise. Combining the existential paranoia of The Truman Show with the free-for-all debauchery of a Grand Theft Auto entry, the film aims to please as many people as it can by making its characters likeable and enjoyable to be around, injecting zany life into some imaginative action sequences, and an array of visual effects which often don’t look like the best graphics in the world, but oddly gets a free pass because it’s all within a video game where the graphics aren’t meant to be stellar or even that realistic. Its irreverent sense of humour is very on-brand with Ryan Reynolds’ recent filmography, often coming across like Deadpool-lite (a poster for said film even lurks in the background on a gamer’s wall), and it will likely charm or irritate you depending on your taste for Reynolds’ natural charisma. He, of course, carries the film well on the strength of his natural likeability alone, and of the charming supporting cast Jodie Comer fares best as she easily goes from in-game badass (where she gets to keep her native Liverpudlian accent) to gawky real-world geek (with a flawless American accent) with barely a misstep.
Parts of the overall story clearly do follow a particular template, which makes it easy to spot when certain beats are about to happen, and you can also tell that certain parts needed to be trimmed down to get it under a more appropriate running time (an extended scene involving a major cameo does outstay its welcome after a little while). However, for the most part, Free Guy is an entertaining ride that has a lot of heart, plenty of charisma, and enough Mariah Carey needle-drops to make up for the fact that she hasn’t released a proper album in a number of years.
It might not be the summer’s best film, but Free Guy is surely better than just playing video games all day long.
SO, TO SUM UP…
Free Guy is an entertaining high-concept blockbuster that features plenty of heart, charm and optimism from its charismatic cast, fun premise and imaginative action, though occasionally you can spot the template and studio-mandated references shining through the cracks.