Ryan Reynolds’ appeal almost saves Free Guy from its own laziness
Film | Jorge Ignacio Castillo | August 18, 2021
There’s a good movie inside Free Guy set entirely inside an open-world video game that digs into the ontological conundrum of discovering you’re a supporting character in someone else’s existence.
Unfortunately, Free Guy wraps that idea in half-assed intrigue and an uninspired love story. The outcome is predictably uneven — a mix of Ted Lasso-like earnestness with ostentatious demonstrations of corporate synergies.
That said, give Free Guy some credit for being an original creation that’s not opening simultaneously on streaming services. The film, which was developed by Fox before Fox was devoured by Disney, also survived both that upheaval and three Covid postponements. Plucky!
Ryan Reynolds singlehandedly justifies Free Guy’s existence with his off-kilter charm as Guy, a non-playable character in a Grand Theft Auto-like videogame called Free City. Guy is content with his never-ending, cyclic existence until he meets Molotov Girl (Jodie Comer, Killing Eve), a player visiting his corner of the game. Inspired by her, Guy starts acting independently and gains fans from across the globe.
Meanwhile in the real world, Molotov Girl is Millie Rusk, a young woman trying to prove Free City is built with code written by her and Walter McKeys (Stranger Things’ Joe Keery). Their code was stolen by the nefarious Antwan (Taika Waititi), an entrepreneur bro who embodies gaming subculture’s worst traits.
The setting allows for Looney Tunes violence and cameos galore. It’s absurdist and fun. The problems start whenever the movie steps out of the video game. Millie’s investigation is dull and Waititi’s comedic chops are wasted on an over-the-top, stereotypical character.
Granted, nobody’s going to watch this for the plot, but Free Guy doesn’t seem to understand anything about how video games are made (frankly I’m not sure the writers even know how computer servers work). I’m not asking for social realism here, but it would be nice if a story that’s partly about people who make video games had a minimal understanding of its topic. As it is, Free Guy sometimes feel like a badly researched “baseball” movie where athletes use cricket bats to score touchdowns. Oh well. At least there’s popcorn.