PG-13, 115 mins.
2021, PG-13, 115 mins.
Ryan Reynolds as Guy / Jodie Comer as Molotov Girl / Lil Rel Howery as Buddy / Joe Keery as Keys / Taika Waititi as Antoine / Utkarsh Ambudkar as MouserDirected by Shawn Levy / Written by Matt Lieberman and Zak Penn
FREE GUY thinks
it's funnier and smarter than it actual is as both an offbeat romantic
comedy and satire of video game lore and culture.
Baring a striking amount of almost plagiaristic similarities (at
least in its opening sections) to THE LEGO
MOVIE, this Shawn Levy (NIGHT
AT THE MUSEUM) directed affair imagines the vast and unimaginably
huge world within a video game that's played by people the world over and
shows us what life is like for a NPC (or nonplayer character) when he
becomes self aware of his reality. This
basic premise has been done before, to be fair (see THE TRUMAN SHOW or, at
least as far as gaming is concerned, the nearly forgotten about GAMER
from a decade-plus ago), but FREE GUY benefits from a spirited and
likeable cast and a whole lot of visual razzle dazzle on screen.
As far as cutting edge and sharply hilarious satires go, though,
this one kind of lacks nerve and innovation, not to mention that its
commentary on the modern gaming milieu is pretty pedestrian at best.
This is also yet
another Ryan Reynolds starring affair having the actor in pure Ryan
Reynolds-ian mode (after DEADPOOL, this
guy may never be able to break out of this typecast) playing Guy, a lowly
bank teller that resides in Free City, and his life could not be anymore
mundane. Every day is
pathetically the same: He gets up, feeds his fish, puts on the exact same
outfit, goes to work, awaits a daily bank robbery, goes home...rinse and
repeat. What poor Guy doesn't
realize, however, is that he's a go-nowhere NPC that resides within the
larger game world of Free City. Like
every other ordinary sad sack, Guy wants to break free of the shackles of
his soul crushing life, and he's granted this opportunity with the
appearance of Molotov Girl (Jodie Comer), one of the many "sunglass
people" super heroes that populate Free City and seem destined for
greatness. After he starts to
follow and befriend her, Guy finds himself in possession of the very
glasses that make her great, which, when put on, utterly changes his whole
perception of reality and grants him special abilities and powers well
beyond normal NPCs. He
essentially begins to the play the game from within, learning how to segue
from being a nobody NPC to a popular and meaningful protagonist.
The other half of
FREE GUY takes place in the real world and introduces us to Millie (also
Comer), who plays Free City via her game avatar in Molotov Girl (alongside
countless other players), but her mission to obsessively play has a
purpose. Millie and her friend in Keys (STRANGER THINGS' Joe Keery)
are up and coming game developers and programmers that came up with a
state of the art and potentially revolutionary AI that they believe was
stolen by Soonami Games and their CEO, Antoine (Taika Waititi).
Millie and Keys think that proof of the theft lies within the Free
City game itself, where they think Antoine has placed their AI code in.
Keys works on the inside at Soonami Games, where Millie is on the
outside looking in, playing the game and looking for her code with help
from Keys on the inside. While
all of this is happening, gamers everywhere are beginning to take notice
of Guy, with many thinking that a human hacker has taken control of and
freed him from his NPC status. Millie
and Keys know better and grow to understand that Guy is proof that their
learning AI works, meaning that computer generated characters can become
self-aware and masters of their own destiny.
An awful lot of
FREE GUY reminded me of the aforementioned GAMER, which was a futuristic
sci-fi thriller that featureded a massive online multiplayer shooter game
of tomorrow where human players can control other nanite controlled human
avatar characters. Now, FREE
GUY is definitely much more light weight in tone than this Neveldine and
Taylor helmed effort, but the core dynamics of both are kind of the same.
If anything, FREE GUY appropriates the mischievous spirit and
concept of THE LEGO MOVIE: Both films contain average schmoes turned
heroes that both wake up to painfully routine rituals every day and later
begin to have their eyes opened as to what their existence actually
entails. Many out there are
commenting on the freshness of approach of FREE GUY, but it's pretty
derivative and seems like a mishmash of other better films that have come
before it (there's also a smattering of THE MATRIX mixed in here with
GAMER, THE TRUMAN SHOW, and THE LEGO MOVIE).
That's not to say
that FREE GUY doesn't have fun with its premise.
The massive budget is most assuredly on-screen here when it comes
to Levy deep diving viewers into the GRAND THEFT AUTO-esque Free City, and
hard core gamers will appreciate all of the little (and not so little)
odes to gaming lore (when Guy is "awakened" he sees health packs
bouncing up and down on the ground, not to mention currency laying around
to be picked up to buy upgrades to make himself more powerful and super
human). FREE GUY generates
some modest interest in exploring Guy partaking in his early missions as a
free man, learning the ropes of becoming a force of nature while
impressing Molotov Girl (he's easily smitten with her).
And, yes, Reynolds is playing the umpteenth variation of the same
type of character he has become famous for playing (Guy is like DEADPOOL,
but minus the tights and vastly more decent minded), and he brings a lot
of infectious enthusiasm to Guy that helps the film hum along.
Reynolds is still a pratfall and wisecrack generating machine here
playing up to his brand, but his schtick works in relationship to the
madness that unfolds around him. FREE
GUY is owned by Jodie Comer, who has to play two characters (one a
ruthlessly determined Free City hero in the game and the other being the
equally headstrong Millie who's trying take down a media giant by exposing
wrongdoing). She exudes such
confidence and natural charisma in the film that commands genuine
interest, and she absolutely helps make the story's more cockamamie
elements work better than if handled by a lesser actress.
As for the other
actors? Boy oh boy, does
Taika Waititi ham it up to obnoxiously unfunny levels here as his
manically egocentric game publisher. There's a difference between over acting and what he does
with Antoine, with the actor aggressively and outlandishly mugging the
camera; it's like no one gave him a filter and just let him loose. That might have worked for, say, a Jim Carrey, whose zany
tomfoolery is infectious, but Waititi is simply not funny here at all.
Also, this ties into FREE GUY's attempts to tap into the darker
underbelly of gaming and game development business culture, but Levy's
idea of sharp, topical commentary includes inserting multiple cameos by
really prominent gamers and streamers (which becomes a tad too obvious and
distracting the more we cut to them).
And what about the nature of AI becoming so limitlessly powerful
that it becomes sentient? FREE
GUY isn't particularly interested in exploring the seismic impact that
this would have on humanity. This
shows why Levy might not have been the best choice for a thinking man's
high concept comedy (remember, this is the same man that made the putrid PINK
PANTHER remake). Instead
of probing the unending possibilities of his film's premise, he's more
inclined to deliver chaotic spectacle, eye candy, and visual gags.
As far as satires go, FREE GUY has next to nothing up its sleeve.
The script takes
easy shots at gamers too and thinks it's knee slappingly hysterical to
highlight the more stereotypical depictions of gamers: Lonely, nerdy, and
introverted losers that still live with their mothers and have no lives
outside of the games they vicariously exist in.
If the makers here knew anything about the actual gaming world then
they'd know that players span multiple age groups and diverse ethnic,
gender, and geographical backgrounds. What's
actually unintentionally funny in FREE GUY is its woefully simplistic
portrayal of how games are designed, created, and maintained. There
are a lot of scenes showing Keys, for example, having God-like programming
abilities; he's able to instantly alter the world of Free City with the
press of a few buttons on a remote laptop. Sure.
You betcha. This
is not as funny as the fact that he's a lowly video game designer
worker-bee that's apparently rich enough to afford a ridiculously
luxurious and spacious condo that probably only game company CEOs in the
real world could afford. FREE
GUY comes off as pure science fiction hogwash at times.
Am I'm being a little hard on this film? Maybe. I think a much shrewder version of this film could have been made that delivered on the gags, fan placating gaming Easter Eggs, and joyous CGI envisioned world of Free City (and the possibilities that it entails) while also having a finger more squarely on the pulse of the larger gaming landscape outside of it. I liked the central journey of Guy here and the themes presented within (learning to escape your comfort zone, break free of societal restraints, and become an actualized master of your own destiny...cool enough), but FREE GUY doesn't really have much more to say about its subject than cookie cutter sermonizing. The film has a million dollar look, but ten cent scripting. Considering the omnipresent nature of video games today, FREE GUY had so much unbridled potential as a topical and engaging send-up, but it's all about flashy visual dynamism and silly hijinks in the most soft-pedaled, audience pandering manner possible, which holds it back from garnering a recommendation from me. Watching it didn't make me want to hit the reset switch as much as it made me yearn for a firmware update patch to be downloaded mid-movie to smooth out its glitches and make the end result better.