Review: 'Free Guy' (2021) Dir. Shawn Levy
Step inside the world of video gaming, in the same vein as 'Ready Player One', but with more more lunacy and comedy, with fusions of sci-fi films and action games for our entertainment...
In the global smash-hit RPG game 'Free City', Non-Playable Character Guy (Reynolds) lives a very normal, very predictable, very uneventful life. He often wonders what else he could be, but happily settles for the background.
Video game designers Millie Rusk (Comer) and Walter McKeys (Keery) also play 'Free City', but for a different reason; to find their original source code that was stolen by commercial game designer Antwan (Waititi).
With her hot-headed avatar, Millie uses the strengths and popularity of Guy to help navigate 'Free City', find their original game code and reclaim it before Antwan takes revenge and destroys 'Free City', and Guy, for good...
From a screenplay by Matt Lieberman leaning to comedy and Zak Penn helping with the action, it's a real film of blended genres and pop-culture references that is one step away from a remake of the satirical The Truman Show.
Ryan Reynolds is so self-aware of his self-referencing, often immature humour that he's no different here. If you've not been a fan of his material previously, this is not going to win you over. He's a combination of many other comedic actors such as Will Ferrell, Steve Carrell, Seth Rogen and Channing Tatum (here for a cheeky cameo also), but he's not as funny or natural in delivery. Often relying on his playful nature, silly style of acting and simple idiocy, it's a trait that runs very thin, very fast. Even taking into account his everyday nobody, Guy, it's hard to find things funny or entertaining. The only comparison is Reynolds plays Guy very similar to Ferrell's Buddy in Elf in terms of childlike mindset, but with zero of the heart, charm and subtle comedic mannerism
But comedy is unique, and for this fast-faced and frantic story peppered with silly humour and sly nods and winks the real world, Reynolds may well be a perfect fit for the comedy of his generation if you're into that sort of performance that, in all intents and purposes, is just phoned in with nothing new brought to the board. Dude, for example, is just awful and only there to feed Reynolds and his desire to be funny.
Similar to Chris Pratt's Emmet in The Lego Movie, or video game NPC (non playable character) Guy is a simple man living a simple life built on code and routine, but longs to be something more, and embraces a whole new world that opens up before him for a cross-genre adventure. He has to be braver, more riskier and more open than ever to grow and be somebody of worth in the virtual world he lives in, but with great level-up power by being a hero, comes great tongue-in-cheek responsibility.
Similar to 'Ready Player One', the real treat is looking for all the pop-culture references and faithful nods and winks to the video gaming RPG world that lends for some wild, fantastical sequences.
Jodie Comer gets her on/off US accent to portray meek and mild game designer Millie Rusk and also her bad-ass AI avatar 'Molotov Girl' who can shoot, stab, steal and slice anything needed in Free City (or what many would simply know as Grand Theft Auto; her own virtual playground. Yet she is the one with the real journey and story, hunting down nefarious game designer Antwan (another energetic comedic performance from Taika Waititi) who is stealing her code for his own industry controlling means. He's the relatable face of greedy commercialism; fat cats who bend rules to please their own agenda, where money and power speak volumes over honesty and care to fans. It's a plot point that can mirror reality, but it's so wrapped up in the zany world and performances audiences are watching, you're not going to sit back and think it's brave for making a statement.
Reynolds and Comer are childlike, pretty and predictable romantic leads and take the expected journey of being zeros rising to heroes in order to save the "virtual" world from ending. Harmless, but empty. An issue is that the script feels it's packed with silly lines of dialogue that have been written just for the own amusement of the actors delivering the lines. Nothing feels natural, and just overtly silly.
In its defence, Reynolds as Guy and the film itself works better when the story kicks in away from the nonsense, it just takes far too long to really get into the meat of things. In the video game sequences, to be fair, the enjoyment comes from the nods and winks to video games. That's always fun to watch and see because there's always something happening in the background.
Visually, Free Guy is a peppy virtual playground of CGI locations, stunts, characters and action blending in with a few practical sets and characters. There's no jeopardy or real ingenuity in terms of what we see, as it's simple CGI creativity for maximum flash, bang and wallop. It's also quirky to see the video game graphics when see what's happening in Free City through the eyes of the real-life players.
It's a real vibrant looking film that has all the visual iconography of video games in terms of action, heads-up displays on screen, font colour and style, madcap stunts and random action (if you have played any RPG and driven a tank through a busy city street, you'll understand).
And yes, Disney use their own brand well for an amusing, top tier cameo.
Sticking up for NPCs everywhere, the video game lore in this is fun, exciting and visually exciting. It just suffers with a predictable plot, silly humour and a typical daft routine from Ryan Reynolds.
'Free Guy' is a co-production between Berlanti Productions, 21 Laps Entertainment, Maximum Effort, Lit Entertainment Group and TSG Entertainment.