Profoundly silly, but loads of fun, Shawn Levy’s Free Guy may be a bit overstuffed and unnecessarily complicated, but the plentiful charms of Ryan Reynolds and Jodie Comer outlast any problems the film might run into.
Reynolds stars as Guy, a non-playable character (NPC) in Free City, an open-world video game based on violent acts and destruction. Guy spends his days going through the same routine including his job as a bank teller, where he is a victim of a bank heist multiple times a day. He spends the bulk of his time with his best friend Buddy (Lil Rel Howery), a security guard at the bank. Both characters are blissfully unaware of their video game origins.
One day, Guy sees Molotov Girl (Comer) and breaks from his usual routine to follow her. Molotov Girl is actually Millie Rusk, a former game designer who searches the game for proof of Free City’s head developer Antwan (Taika Waititi) stole the code originally created by Millie and Walter “Keys” McKey (Joe Keery), Millie’s former partner who now works for Antwan at Soonami Games.
Guy’s discovery of Millie awakens his intelligence and allows him to move past his original programming. Now armed with glasses that allow him to see into the player’s perspective, Guy attempts to help Millie and find love. In the real world, Millie attempts to reconnect with Keys in order to salvage their original gaming vision and bring down Soonami.
If that all sounds like a lot, it’s because it is. Time spent with Guy in the game is fun and harmless, but the film can’t help but enter the real world. The stakes of the game continue to be increased in the outside, but it all has an impact on Millie and Keys, and very little impact on Guy. Even when the real-world actions threaten Guy, the narrative is complemented by a series of talking heads from real-life gamers. For a film about characters in a video game, much too much time is spent in the real world.
The film does not work without Reynolds and Comer. Reynolds is more known for his self-aware sarcasm, but he trades that in for dopey sweetness. Guy is closer to a sweet dog than a real person, blissfully unaware of the things happening in the game, but taking it all in stride. Reynolds balances the sweetness with enough gentle humor that Guy never comes across as grating or over-earnest. Comer is more no-nonsense in the game, but parlays it into a surprising physicality. Her chemistry with Reynolds drives the film and allows the audience to have a rooting interest.
Howery doesn’t have much to work with, but a has a few standout scenes to show his earnest sweetness, which endears him further. Keery is fine, as is Utkarsh Ambudhar as Keery’s co-worker. They’re much more fun as their in-game avatars, but only have one small scene to show it. Waititi has proven his skills as a performer, but his insufferable character’s unbridled narcicism wears on you. He is also featured much more than he needs to be.
As an original idea, Free Guy is an absolute success. As a film, it’s a bit of a mess, but a mess I enjoyed and have no regrets about watching. Sometimes, films don’t need to be more than that.