FILM 2021

Ryan Reynolds is not Playing in Free Guy

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If you’ve ever sat down to play a video game, you might have found yourself wondering – what if I was actually in the game? What could I do and where could I go? Free Guy is here to answer those questions, explaining the rules of the game and lending a dose of reality to virtual reality. Directed by Shawn Levy and written by Matt Lieberman, the film proves to be more than just a gimmick, and it doesn’t skimp on any of the immersive effects you might expect, depicting a vast, artificial world.

Ryan Reynolds plays Guy, a character in this world, and his snarky, aw-shucks humor is perfect for the role. He’s an Everyman (per the name) with an outfit so generic it hurts to look at. When he takes his morning stroll to work, helicopters slam into buildings, cars swerve into other cars and someone gets thrown through a plate-glass window, but he doesn’t seem to mind. Even when he and his best friend (Lil Rel Howery) are robbed at gun-point, Guy doesn’t care one iota; he just shrugs, drops to the floor, and asks Buddy about his weekend plans.

He doesn’t realize he’s actually living in a video game until he meets Molotov Girl (Killing Eve’s Jodie Comer), an avatar in “Free City.” She’s a cool, smooth-talking assassin who’s searching for proof that Antoine (a tech mogul played by Taika Waititi) has stolen her code. She’s also Guy’s dream girl, and when he follows her on a secret mission, he discovers that he’s not a man but a Non Player Character (NPC), one of those no-names who wanders the background of games like Grand Theft Auto and Minecraft.

That doesn’t mean he can’t do human things, though. The third act lets Guy be free guy, while the rest of the NPC’s go about their lives in an endless, uninteresting loop. He throws on a pair of glasses and plays the game himself, becoming the world’s first Artificial Intelligence player as he levels up, helps Molotov and sifts through an eye-popping landscape of digital staircases and bridges, explosions and celebrity cameos.

Free Guy is an explosion of giddy mayhem, though it doesn’t stray outside the lines of its Truman Show-style formula. The novelty of humans trapped in an artificial world sustains the film, thanks to the genuinely humane and ironically emotional performances. While Comer shows her heroic side with a tight suit and black shades, Reynolds is the real standout, giving a completely believable performance as the confused, congenial audience surrogate. He’s our Player Character and the eyes through which we see this world. At one point, we even see Molotov’s backside from his perspective.

Which begs the question: who is this movie for? With a somewhat light, PG-13 tone, it feels like a family film, but certain scenes are not suitable for children. There’s quite a lot of ogling and sexual innuendos, which could lead to some awkward family convos on the car ride home. It also must be mentioned that the jokes are not “newb” friendly. There are references to GTA, Fortnight, Call of Duty, skins, mods, maps, missions and dozens of Easter eggs only gamers will notice. But hey, this is a video game movie. You could do a whole lot worse than a few glitches.

Highlights