There’s no reason to beat about the bush. 20th Century Studios Free Guy is good. It is so good that it might just be the shot in the arm (pun intended) that the movie industry needed because it is a movie you’ll want to see again and again. Not just because it’s good, but because there is so much to see you can’t take it all in with one viewing. And you will want to see it all. Because, as we all know, this summer season has been pretty lackluster. Sure, it was mainly because COVID-19 made for a weird release calendar, but, to tell the truth, the movies that were released were just so-so. As Summer inched towards Fall, I didn’t hold out much hope for a hero to save the day.
Believe it or not (yeah, I did that on purpose), Free Guy is that hero. I suppose it shouldn’t be too big a surprise. Ryan Reynolds hasn’t misstepped in years, and after watching the first hilarious trailer, I thought the movie looked like it could be good. But trailers have fooled me before, so I went in with my mental arms crossed, prepared to be disappointed again. Yes, there have been some near misses, but nothing that just wowed those of us who simply love a summer blockbuster that gives us more than just bang for our buck: acting, direction, screenplay, AND stunts and effects. We usually get one, or if we are lucky, two or three in a summer from the big studios. But Reynolds’ gem of a film is a perfect blend of irreverent, hilarious, and heartwarming that makes for a fun night out at the movies for summer movie-loving grownups.
This review is spoiler-free, by the way. I only saw a couple of trailers and I suggest if you haven’t seen any of them, don’t watch them. Enjoy this movie as spoiler-free as you can, because there are a couple of fun surprises!
Reynolds is in his element as Guy, a background video character, or Non-Player Character (NPC), who one day realizes that his version of his ideal life could actually be better when he meets the girl of his dreams. But what he doesn’t realize is that his new true love, Molotov Girl, is really Millie, a real person who plays the game and is there for a very specific reason. And, of course, Guy also doesn’t know his life is a game.
There will be the inevitable comparisons to Truman Show, Tron, and other films in which a protagonist one day begins testing the boundaries of what he knows/thinks is real. Growth is a major theme, like in the other films, but how the story is told is completely original. There is a no-holds-barred style and pace that has you running to keep up and laughing the whole way. The storytelling mirrors Guy’s plucky approach to each new challenge: it may not be perfect, but it works like a charm.
The love story, of course, looms large in the story, but that, too, surprises. I got the feeling that love must have been a huge part of the filmmaking experience. Maybe it is just me, but this is the first movie I’ve seen recently where I got the feeling that everyone involved must have loved coming to work every day to work on the movie and that they must have really loved working together.
This may sound strange, but one of the best things about Free Guy is the fact that is so genuinely funny. I mean, I recently sat through a screening of a film that was supposed to be funny and it was almost embarrassing to watch the filmmakers go through ridiculous lengths to drag laughs out of the audience, which mostly amounted to polite titters. So, when I say it felt good to belly-laugh all the way through the movie, I mean it, because a reason to laugh is something that is hard to come by these days.
As I said, Reynolds is perfect as Guy. The wide-eyed-innocent-speaking-inappropriate-truths thing works for him. But it isn’t just the funny stuff he’s good at. The few moments of seriousness were just as good. I almost teared up at one point and it came out of nowhere. Amazing stuff.
The rest of the cast was fun to watch as well. Lil Rel Howery was surprisingly adorable as Buddy, Guy’s BFF. In the hands of a less-talented actor, his over-the-top sunny disposition might have gotten old, but you couldn’t help but go with it when he was on screen.
Jodie Comer as Millie, and Joe Keery (and his hair) as Keys, are both charming as the game designers with higher aspirations. Utkarsh Ambudkar as Mouser, who helps to track down trolls and other bad users, was fun to watch. I was less impressed with Taika Watiti, CEO of the game company Soonami which publishes Guy’s world, who is trying too hard to be fly (or dope or Gucci or whatever kids say now). But then I always find him more hilarious behind the camera than in front of it.
As to the game/gamer look and feel of the film, I am not going to try and critique those elements as I am not an experienced gamer. I have been in Second Life for several years, but that doesn’t really count (except I will admit to wondering what my avatar did when I logged off). But a few months ago, I was talked into purchasing “Red Dead Online”, a first-person shooter set in the Old West, by some friends and so I am now somewhat familiar with the lingo. I do know what NPCs, loot, XP, etc. are, and I know first-hand what many of the player frustrations are when it comes to bugs and updates. I also admit that I have been kinder to NPCs since I saw the movie. So yes, I can say being a noobie gamer did enhance my enjoyment of the movie, but trust me, you don’t have to be a gamer to love this movie.
By the way, before I go any further, this movie is for adults and older kids. It’s only PG-13 because there is no nudity or sex, but there is a lot of video game violence and a LOT of swearing, so I’d leave the littles at home.
So, should you see Free Guy? Hell, yes. It is going to be in the theaters exclusively for a few weeks, so if you take all the necessary precautions, try to see it in a theater. I haven’t had that much fun seeing a movie with an audience since before the pandemic shut it all down. But this is one of those movies that is really fun as a group experience. I’m not saying throw caution to the wind, especially with virus variants, etc. But I am vaccinated, wore a mask, and maintained social distance. For me, that works. If it works for you, go see Free Guy in a theater. But even if you wait, see it. You won’t have a good time, you’ll have a great time.
In “Free Guy,” a bank teller who discovers he is actually a background player in an open-world video game decides to become the hero of his own story…one he rewrites himself. Now in a world where there are no limits, he is determined to be the guy who saves his world his way…before it is too late. Starring Ryan Reynolds, Jodie Comer, Lil Rel Howery, Joe Keery, Utkarsh Ambudkar, and Taika Waititi, “Free Guy” is directed by Shawn Levy from a screenplay by Matt Lieberman and Zak Penn and a story by Lieberman. The film is produced by Ryan Reynolds, p.g.a., Shawn Levy, p.g.a., Sarah Schechter, Greg Berlanti, and Adam Kolbrenner with Mary McLaglen, Josh McLaglen, George Dewey, Dan Levine, and Michael Riley McGrath serving as executive producers.