Free Guy uses a quippy concept of an open-world multiplayer video game combined with The Truman Show (1998) to try and deliver a witty and entertaining popcorn flick. Its charm fades away quickly, and it drags a lot in its second half; at least Jodie Comer is there to lift its low moments.
Video game movies have been around for quite some time now, and they have tried to do some interesting things with their themes and respective franchises but end up failing quite miserably. Each year we get a new one, and after the release, most of us question why they keep making them. It doesn’t even have to be a franchise; they could get many different nostalgic references together to try and deliver an entertaining narrative, like with Pixels (2015) or Spielberg’s Ready Player One (2018).
The latest entry to the video game film genre, Free Guy, from Night at the Museum (2006) director, Shawn Levy, uses a wisecrack idea of life realisation through artificial intelligence to deliver an action flick. However, its structure is so unorganised that it doesn’t keep itself afloat for its two-hour runtime.
Guy (Ryan Reynolds) lives an ordinary life as a bank teller alongside his co-worker, security officer Buddy (Lil Rel Howery). One day, following the girl of his fantasies, Molotov Girl (Jodie Comer), he discovers that he is a background NPC in an open-world game called “Free City”. Guy then becomes a hero in a world with no limits, helping Molotov Girl on a mission.
Levy isn’t known for making the best of films, but his Night at the Museum trilogy has a certain charm, even though most moments in their narratives don’t make sense. In Free Guy, Levy delivers some magic that then goes away after trying to implement a Truman Show-type storyline that isn’t executed well because he isn’t good at setting these smart ideas that reflect on life. During the film, the people in and out of the game get involved in Guy’s life (like Truman), and they begin to care for him, recognising him as a living A.I., though the director can’t find a way to implement it cleverly.
He keeps repeating the same errors that keep his movies from having some verve or passion—using the same comedic style of The Internship (2013) and Date Night (2010), which causes the jokes to run dry. With an overblown budget and a stampede of references, the film tries to play the Ready Player One card, which failed back in 2018, to get the audience involved in the story and not focus on its shoddy script. Borderlands, Portal, and Fortnite are referenced so the younger audience can recognize them, and the problems come when the references are shoved in your face. For example, Captain America: Civil War (2016) and Star Wars (1977) are referenced with no apparent motive. Like Space Jam: A New Legacy (2021), the film feels more like propaganda than popcorn entertainment.
With Ryan Reynolds in the lead role, you’d think the film would feature some charm. Reynolds’ shtick feels tiresome and a bit annoying. He delivers the same performance repeatedly in everything he appears in lately. In The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard (2021), Deadpool (2016), and 6 Underground (2019), he’s doing the same thing. It works in small amounts or in supporting roles because he can deliver small comedic moments that work, like in Hobbs and Shaw (2019). In full-lengths, it’s dull and monotonous.
And talking about repetitiveness, Taika Waititi can’t match his likability factor with his range. He is given some of the film’s worst lines and approaches his performance like he always does, with the same mannerisms, expressions, and comedic style. It hurts to see such magnetic appearances being directed to do their usual jestings. The only person who makes the feature shine is Jodie Comer being badass; she is the only thing that makes the audience care. Her line delivery is acute, and she kicks ass and is the only interesting character—every other character is written very poorly.
In the end, Free Guy does have some entertaining sequences, most of them featuring Comer’s Molotov Girl; however, the film is structured quite poorly, losing its charm and interest by the minute. It starts to drag immensely when the half-time ticks, causing the filmmakers to up the antics and “emotional” moments so the audience can stick with it. The last act wants to deliver spectacle, but it is all over the place, rushed and messy. The film tries to do it all with comedy, romance, action, though it doesn’t know how to shape those elements into an amusing popcorn flick.
The fictional ‘Free City’ is based on Liberty City from Grand Theft Auto III (2001) and Grand Theft Auto IV (2008) games. Also, Liberty City was inspired by New York City in real life.