Free Guy review – a creative burst of fresh air

August 24, 2021 (Last updated: August 26, 2021)
M.N. Miller 0
Film, Film Reviews


Free Guy is a creative burst of fresh air.

This review of Free Guy is spoiler-free.

Something most people won’t admit is that Ryan Reynolds movies are often hit and miss. You can’t just put him in anything. And often, he has a horrible track record with film choices. For every Deadpool, you’ll have some stinkers (The Hitman’s Bodyguard movies) and some downright failures (The Green Lantern, R.I.P.D.). But what makes Reynolds so popular is his affable, comedic charms. And once in a while, he finds a script that is perfectly tailored to those talents.

That film is Free Guy, an innovative and contemporary action comedy directed by Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum franchise), a director who has a history of financially successful studio comedies that are drenched in CGI-special effects. The script was written by Matt Lieberman (The Christmas Chronicles films) and Zak Penn (Ready Player One, The Avengers). They tap into the modern video game culture by telling a story from the view of an NPC (non-player character) in an open video game world.

What’s an NPC? You know, those characters that live in the background that you can run over and blow away with a sawed-off shotgun in games like Grand Theft Auto. That artificial intelligence is Guy (Ryan Reynolds). He is a bank teller who works in the background of a game called Free City. He experiences robberies at work every 90-minutes or so by the “sunglasses” people (avatars controlled by real people). You know the kind—the good or bad guys in a video game who selfishly think of only themselves. Then AI’s like Guy pay the price.

His best friend, Buddy (Lil Rel Howery), a security guard at the bank, often confides in him. Like the story, he tells him of the dream he keeps having a super sexy, badass chick named Molotov Girl (Jodie Cramer). She is the avatar of Millie, a coder who plays Free City looking for evidence that the creator of the game (Taika Waititi, incredibly over the top here) stole her code to create it. Of course, Guy sees her on the digital streets one day, falling in love with his own creator. Which makes you realize Freud’s use of the Oedipus complex was right after all.

Most big-budget comedies are so heavily invested in special effects, they become an assault on the senses that become relentless and exhausting (must look through Levy’s filmography). Levy successfully juggles the special effects to drive the story rather than cover up its flaws. The meld of comic timing, winning performances, CGI, surprise guest spots, and even high concept storytelling is harmonious.

I will say the film, for all its bells and whistles, is heavily dependent on the likability of Reynolds, Cromer, and their sweet romance. Guy is so sunny and optimistic that Cromer’s Millie becomes. It taps into audiences looking for more positive outlooks in the darkest of times. If you doubt that, explain the critical and audience praise of the Jason Sudeikis vehicle Ted Lasso. The new comedy heroes are now crawling out of the shadows of the past twenty years of anti-heroes the 21st century is known for.

Helmed by the winning Reynolds and guided with a steady hand by Levy, Free Guy is a welcome diversion in an industry obsessed with melodramas, exhausting dramas, gross-out humor, or deafening action. It’s often funny but more amusing than anything that frequently has you cracking a smile with its sweet nature. Even rarer for a film to put as much work into its endearing storytelling quality with special effects. It’s a creative burst of fresh air.

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