Principal Cast : Ryan Reynolds, Jodie Comer, Joe Keery, Lil Rel Howery, Uutkarsh Ambudkar, Taika Waititi, Britine Oldford, Camille Kostek, Channing Tatun, Mike Devine.
Synopsis: A bank teller discovers that he’s actually an NPC inside a brutal, open world video game.
A hilarious collision between Ready Player One, The Truman Show and The Lego Movie, Shawn Levy’s (Night At The Museum 1, 2 and 3, Real Steel) pastiche of gaming, fame and examination of our reality in Free Guy is a home-run of comedy and action led by a sparkling lead turn from Ryan Reynolds, captivating co-starring work by Jodie Comer (and to a lesser degree Joe Keery), and some gut-bustingly funny cameos and sight gags. That pervading sense of familiarity is everywhere within Free Guy but Levy, Reynolds and even the squeaky-wheel Taika Waititi, in a bad guy role, work wonders keeping things zipping along with a high degree of humour and a surprisingly charming amount of heart.
Reynolds plays Guy, a Non-player Character inside the popular online open-world game “Free City”, in which players complete various missions utilising over-the-top violence and indestructible wantonness. Guy works at the city’s bank, as a teller, and has a pleasant enough existence whiling away the hours of sudden bank robbery violence (as one of the in-game missions) with best friend Buddy (Lil Rel Howery). One day, Guy encounters the avatar of Millie Rusk (Jodie Comer), Molotov Girl, and breaks free of his game programming to fall for her, hard. Free of the confines of what the game expects from him, Guy starts to behave in a manner congruent with sentience, as he fights through various missions to gain enough experience points to see the love of his life again, all without realising that he is inside a computer game. Meanwhile, Millie and former computer game development partner Walter “Keys” McKeys (Joe Keery) work to find the source code of their original game Life Itself, which was stolen by Soonami Technology’s head developer Antwan (Taika Waititi) and repurposed for the revised game, which has resulted in Millie becoming something of a hacker to find the source; using Guy inside the game, and Keys outside the game, Millie tracks down the various clues littered around Free City to prove her case against Antwan and reclaim her sense of identity.
In every respect, Free Guy probably has no reason being as good as it is. Seeing as how it borrows so liberally from The Truman Show (with Reynolds a far cheesier Jim Carrey replacement), with a hint of EDtv, Free Guy is a heartfelt love letter to online gaming, an indictment on the ubiquity of gaming culture, and a charming, wonderful time in the presence of gloriously funny filmmakers, to the point it transcends its familiarity to feel fresh and intriguing. Written by Matt Lieberman (Scoob!, Playing With Fire and The Christmas Chronicles) and Zak Penn (a long-time Hollywood stalwart with hits like The Incredible Hulk, X2 and The Avengers under his penmanship), Free Guy’s easy-breezy nature as a piss-take on the reliability of NPC’s and their ubiquity, as well as the intrinsic value of artificial intelligence as the next step in computer evolution all kinda take a back seat to Ryan Reynolds’ effortlessly comedic sensibility to deliver one-liners and non-sequiturs with such rapidity and such panache you might miss something whilst you’re laughing. It’s a film you’d describe as “charming” in the same way a cupcake is delicious.
Peddling the Easter Egg-heavy visuals, Levy concocts an instantly dated pop-culture smorgasbord of visual gags, references and homages, including (but not limited to) Sim City, Fortnite and Grand Theft Auto, various iconic weapons such as lightsabres, broadswords and portal guns (to name a few) and smashes them into a cinematic blender to hide a few of the film’s more problematic flaws. There’s a gaggle of real-world gaming personalities aboard as well, including (and these I only recognise because I’ve seen my kids watching them on YouTube) Dan TDM, Ninja and Jacksepticeye, whilst a brief glimpse of late Jeopardy host Alex Trebek, merely one of the avalanche of notable famous faces dotted throughout, was a sweet moment of nostalgia. That Levy and his team assembled such a raconteur-centric roster to supplement the obvious online world premise in Free Guy is something to behold, and yet this only skims the surface of all the fun to be had here. Sadly, in thirty years this film’s references are gonna hold up as well as the original Shrek does now, which is to say, poorly.
Ryan Reynolds is, well, Ryan Reynolds ratcheted up to 11 in Free Guy, his schtick a love-it or hate-it style that will either work for you or against you with such verbal patter to play with. How much of Free Guy was adlibbed I’m not entirely sure but you have to imagine there’s a whole reel of outtakes somewhere with alternative line deliveries not just from Reynolds but the rest of this cast just waiting to be unearthed. Reynolds’ chemistry with co-star Jodie Comer, who plays Millie, is palpable, and as you watch you almost hope against hope that somehow the film will bring them together and keep them there – spoiler, it doesn’t – and I think they make the sweetest couple. Comer provides the film’s heart more than Reynolds, which I found surprising, and her real-world character of Millie is absolutely the rock around which much of the film’s honesty and soul circle. Joe Keery, as Keys, Utkarsh Ambudkar, as Key’s Soonami colleague Mouser, and Lil Rel Howery round out the main cast of good guys, and all perform solid work in this quickfire romp, whilst Taika Waititi, sporting his best high-pitched douchebag voice, is off-kilter creepy as Soonami’s resident Big Boss, Antwan. Waititi is probably the film’s weakest element – as a director he makes a pretty poor actor – but Levy wisely cuts around his performance deficiencies to give him a scattershot disagreeableness that honours the film’s wisecracking tone without completely souring it. A cool cameo by Channing Tatum, perhaps the most story-centric of all sidebar performers here, had me guffawing widely, while Lil Rel Howery’s jibber-jabber work as Buddy the enthusiastic bank guard provides the sweetness to Reynolds’ less sophisticated articulations.
Complete with solid visual effects, a delightful Christophe Beck (Frozen, Ant-Man) score, George Richmond’s (Kingsman: The Secret Service) bright, shining cinematography, and edited to a razor-sharp point by Dean Zimmerman (Jumper, The Darkest Minds), Free Guy is an absolute blast of energetic fun to be had for anyone who’s a fan of gaming, action, comedy or sci-fi – Free Guy tackles all aspects of these elements and trumps minor quibbles (if Guy wasn’t such a straight-up riff on Emmett from The Lego Movie; I kept waiting for “Everything Is Awesome” to kick in…) with a heart and soul that defies begrudging indifference. Trust me: my wife, a sourpuss when it comes to these kinds of “silly films” sat and laughed just as hard as I did, so I can recommend this one to everyone.