The irresistible off-the-cuff Canadian quips of Ryan Reynolds are unleashed in an inside-video-game comedy from the director of “Night at the Museum,” “Free Guy,” an amusing variation on what is by now a well-worn plot.
The new twist here? Our “Tron/Wreck it Ralph/Ready Player One” hero doesn’t know he’s in a game. And gosh, he’s fine with that, until that moment when he wonders if there might be “something more” to this life of same blue shirts, same espressos at the same cafe and work at the same bank, which is robbed multiple times every day because that’s what happens in your more violent video games.
“Free Guy” traffics in tired gamer/gaming types — that too many of “them” live with their moms or congregate in super-spreader-sized Asian game rooms, glued to their screens, addicted to both their favorite games and those enterprising nerds who’ve made online careers out of playing and commenting on others playing, making a living off fans who “watch” them online.
And as such its another commentary on gaming’s downside, the predatory nature of online game operations which, like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, hunt for that perfect algorithm that gets us addicted, and keeps us logged in.
Nametag-wearing Guy (Reynolds) is a digital watch-wearing dork, relentlessly upbeat, chums with the security guard (Lil Rel Howery) who cowers on the floor with him during every robbery at the Free City bank where they both work.
“Don’t have a good day, have a GREAT day,” Guy gushes to one and all, which may be the most Ryan Reynolds line ever, delivered with an extra helping of sugary maple syrup.
But maybe one day he wants a different coffee drink. Maybe “normal” isn’t what he thinks he is. And maybe accepting that Free City is full of villains and heroes in sunglasses, and bystanders/victims like himself, has an expiration date.
He’s about to learn he’s living in a hellscape of a game, and learn what an NPC is, a “non-playable character.” He’s about to don…sunglasses.
Naturally, it’s a hottie heroine in a faux Tomb Raider get-up who triggers this epiphany. MolotovGirl is her online handle, a pretty cool avatar for Millie (Jodie Comer), who is shooting and punching her way through Free City with an agenda all her own.
Pretty soon Guy is a spanner in the works, a “trash-assed noob” thwarting robbers, disarming trigger-happy mass shooters and generally mucking up everybody on the outside’s games, game strategy and gaming life.
Guy’s epiphanies are many, some imparted by the puzzled MolotovGirl, who can’t figure out what he is, some which he arrives at all by himself.
“Life doesn’t have to be something that just happens to us,” he muses. And this AI creation is growing a soul, something the gamers themselves prefer to abandon once they log on.
“I’d never hurt innocent people.”
The script cuts between Guy’s new eyes on the mayhem all around him (often invisible, without the game character glasses) and the players themselves, profiled as “sociopathic manchild” types, and intrigues at the game corp where Millie once worked, Soonami. Her former partner and game developer Keys (Joe Keery) is still there, trouble-shooting this “noob” who is somehow mucking up the game and getting global attention for doing it.
Director Shawn Levy has done a lot of comedies, but “Night at the Museum” is the right comparison here. He stuffs the screen with game action, game characters and game tokens. He . and Reynolds recruited legions of cameos, some of whom you’ll recognize, some only here as a voice.
Listen for somebody Levy directed in “Date Night” and somebody Reynolds has an epic celebrity feud with.
Comer, of TV’s “Killing Eve” and various series in her native Britain, makes a reasonably convincing badass in Free City, and a winsome idealist in her quixotic battle with Soonami and its manic man-child owner (Taika Waititi).
Whatever its loftier existential ambitions, “Free Guy” is never much more than big screen eye candy with Reynolds’ grinning deadpan anchoring it with his amusing over and under reactions to all that befalls Guy.
And if you love Reynolds — And seriously, who doesn’t? — that’s enough.
MPA Rating: PG-13, (fantasy) violence, language (profanity)
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Jodie Comer, Lil Rel Howery, Joe Keery, Utkarsh Ambudkar and Taika Waititi, along with many cameos.
Credits: Directed by Shawn Levy, script by Mark Lieberman, Zak Penn. A 20th Century release.
Running time: 1:55