Free Guy doesn’t set the bar as the new mark for video game films, but it’s got enough laughs and spectacle to plug in and disconnect for two hours.
Ryan Reynolds (The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard) is Guy, an impossibly cheery bank teller at Free City. He insists that his customers not just have a good day, but a great one. Yep, Guy is one of the good…er, guys. He chats with everyone on his way to work and always makes post work plans with Buddy (Lil Rel Howery, Space Jam: A New Legacy), his best friend and bank security guard.
Guy isn’t completely oblivious to the carnage unfolding around him as Free City is looted, raided and destroyed on a seemingly daily basis by armed thugs wearing outlandish costumes toting increasingly deadlier weapons.
That’s just every day life in Free City says Guy, who recognizes he doesn’t live the cool life of the sunglass wearing crew perpetrating all this carnage and dating incredibly beautiful women like Bombshell (Camille Kostek).
Randomly picking up a pair of sunglasses allows Guy to see a new perspective on Free City with various neon signs and floating objects in the air that he’d never see without benefit of the glasses. The lovelorn Guy also meets the woman of his dreams when the volatile Molotov Girl (Jodie Comer, Killing Eve) arrives. Molotov doesn’t have much use for Guy and offers him advice a lot of women tell dudes — level up.
In this case, Guy can do that literally yet he doesn’t do it the standard Free City way of causing destruction and brutality. Guy maxes up by being a Good Guy and being the hero Free City never knew it needed.
The catch is unlike the other sunglass-wearers, Guy has no idea he’s actually in an open world video game. Or that the sunglass crew are actually players with their created avatars popping in and out of the game to blow off a little steam by literally blowing up buildings, stealing cars, robbing banks and riding around in a tank.
And he definitely doesn’t know Molotov Girl is actually controlled by Millie, one of the game designers who had her original concept stolen by billionaire Antoine (Taika Waititi, Avengers: Endgame). Millie is running around Free City in hopes of finding incriminating code that would force Antoine to give the idea back to her and fellow creator, Keys (Joe Keery, Stranger Things). That’s just slightly more complicated since Keys works for Antoine.
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With Guy’s help, Millie might be able to finally beat Antoine literally at her own game if she can avoid the trolls and cheat codes thrown in.
Screenwriters Zak Penn (Ready Player One) and Matt Lieberman (The Christmas Chronicles) fully embrace the wackiness of an open world video game concept with several nods to the format with its strengths and weaknesses. Penn and Lieberman also overcome the inherent weaker elements of the non-Free City segments and keep them mostly engaging.
Director Shawn Levy (Stranger Things) juggles the chaos well and keeps it fun despite the two hour run time. Cutting just 20 minutes would have made for more effective comedy and trimming some of the inessential action sequences.
Levy adds enough open world gags that it might take repeated viewings to catch everything like the new users struggling to properly use their characters who keep hopping in place.
At times the film based off an open world video game feels a bit too over the top. Yes, that sounds ridiculous given the subject matter. Every scene with Waititi’s Antoine comes off more like a parody that would work better in Free City than the real world setting. Thankfully whenever the film starts to veer too far into the absurd whether with cameos or action sequences, Reynolds and Comer reel it back in.
Reynolds typically plays the quippy straight guy and he alters his usual performance to be impressively naïve with a generous heaping of earnestness. That’s a nice adjustment for Reynolds, who seems to enjoying playing against type. Comer also provides a fun performance as she shifts from being the prototypical cool video game girl to a far more well-rounded person in the real world.
The producers ensured they squeezed every penny’s worth out of licensing Mariah Carey’s Fantasy. It’s basically the film’s theme song and is played a ton. Yet, Free Guy only manages to rank as the second best use of the song. Rush Hour still remains the champion in that category.
Free Guy could have gotten some bonus points if it included ODB’s lyrics in it. At this point, why even bother listening to Fantasy if it’s not the full ‘Ol Dirty remix?
The film features a slew of cameos from video game influencers speaking to their followers and providing running commentary on the game events. It’s ironic in this sense that this original property video game caters to the default target audience more than some comic book movies.
Free Guy has some flaws, but it’s fun and plays up its original concept well.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Photo Credit: 20th Century Studios