Director: Shawn Levy
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Jodie Comer, Lil Rel Howery, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Joe Keery, Taika Waititi
Run Time: 115 mins
Free Guy is an action sci-fi comedy that is directed by Shawn Levy, his first film since 2014’s Night At The Museum: Secret Of The Tomb. Ryan Reynolds plays Guy, a non-player character (referred to in the gaming community as an NPC) in a video game called Free City. He is a bank teller and his daily routine consists of waking up, greeting his goldfish, drinking the same coffee, wisecracking with the bank security guard Buddy (Lil Rel Howery) and putting up with five or so armed robberies. All day, every day.
In the real world, unemployed Millie (Jodie Comer) enters the world of Free City every day in the hope of finding the game’s source data. The data was stolen from her and her business partner, Keys (Joel Keery) by Antwan Hovachelik (Taika Waititi), the ruthless and boisterous CEO of Soonami Studios. Millie and Keys had created a game called Life Itself, which Free City contains more than a few similarities.
Millie’s Free City avatar, Molotov Girl meets Guy who becomes infatuated with her. After a series of events, Guy is able to access the player’s view of the game and sidelines himself from his scripted Groundhog Day reality, causing chaos both in his world and the real world.
On paper, Free Guy has a lot going for it. When working with strong material, Ryan Reynolds can be a likeable screen presence and the supporting cast of Comer, Waititi and Howery also bodes well. Levy is no stranger to crafting imaginary worlds with plenty of heart. With parallels to the aforementioned Groundhog Day, as well as The Matrix, The Truman Show, The Lego Movie and Ready Player One, can Free Guy carve its own niche?
Unfortunately despite strong critical and audience reception, Free Guy is a major disappointment. The gags are rarely humorous and there is just too much going on – it constantly feels like the film is uneasy with itself. The film is eager to plaster a smile on your face but it really doesn’t hang together. It lacks the warm heart that this material requires and it’s tonally bland.
Ryan Reynolds is likeable enough in the lead but doesn’t make that much of an impression. Even Taika Waititi isn’t given the opportunity to shine in a villainous role for the charismatic actor – his performance is just awkward and bordering on tiring. Luckily, Jodie Comer is the thread that hangs the film together with a committed and warm performance and Lil Rel Howery also brings some typical cheer.
The score by Christophe Beck is obvious and there are some painful chart hits interspersed into the action that aggressively doesn’t fit. The visual effects are pleasing and it can’t be denied that Levy has crafting a colourful and bombastic world. It’s surprising to see George Richmond credited as the cinematographer as the photography doesn’t really match with his signature heightened aesthetic.
It’s a shame that Free Guy isn’t the slam-dunk that it should be on paper. The film has all the ingredients but it’s ultimately a nervous and largely uninteresting mess. There’s some interesting visuals and a couple of bright performances but not a great deal more.