ST. LOUIS — One of the biggest fears in life is our human world seeming too robotic and planned-as if someone is just sitting at a computer, moving us around with a controller. Well, in Shawn Levy's "Free Guy," that's the realization for our protagonist, Guy (Ryan Reynolds).
He's the bank teller who acts like a wild combination of Emmett from "Lego Guy" and Jim Carrey's protagonist in "Truman Show," an overly nice fella who is oblivious to the fact that his entire life is a video game simulation and he isn't real. But in the movies, even fake characters can save the day, and that becomes Guy's mission when the Free City game developer (Taika Waititi hamming it up) wants to demolish it for an entirely new game world.
There's your plot for a movie that made me laugh quite a few times yet didn't make that heart-rendering emotional impact that some critics have mentioned in their reviews. We pick up with Guy living his best, superficial life while spending time with his bank security guard/best friend, Buddy (Lil Rey Howery, effortlessly funny per usual) and checking out the dangerous-looking-yet gorgeous Molotov Girl (Jodie Comer). But as they walk around, the streets are filled with bonus rounds, point collections, and bizarre action and adventures taking place right on the street. It's as if Grand Theft Auto was mixed with "Pleasantville" and rolled into a romantic cyber tale.
Reynolds doesn't have to stretch much in the lead role, bringing effortless charm to the likeable Guy and once again turning throwaway lines into funny one-liners. But the supporting cast is what makes the movie worth a look. Comer has come a long way in the television world, stealing scenes on "Killing Eve" while playing the mother of heroines in "Star Wars" movies.
But in a dual role here-along with Molotov action girl, she's the real-life Millie behind the computer-Comer really establishes herself in the part. She packs humor, heart, and fun into Millie, who works closely with Reynolds' unlikely hero to preserve the free yet fake world. I wanted more time with her heroine/femme fatale with the quiet heart of a dreamer.
Like Comer, Joe Keery is known mostly for his television work, such as Netflix's "Stranger Things," but he plays a vital role as one of the software developers for the game who could have a bigger role in Guy's creation. As entertaining as seeing Reynolds get hit by cars or various people can be, Keery and Comer's subplot is the real find. Utkarsh Ambudkar, who stole scenes of his own in "Brittany Runs a Marathon," gets to have some fun here as Mouser, another pawn in the game. Channing Tatum fans may be in for a surprise as well.
In Levy's film, everything and anything is thrown at the wall, with the hopes of reminding us we aren't watching a wild concoction of "Ready Player One," Steven Spielberg's more serious and better-crafted film about losing yourself in virtual reality. It's a busy script from Matt Lieberman and Zak Penn for a film that aspires to be light entertainment.
And like the previously mentioned "Lego Movie," it borrows jokes and setups from other films, playing like some tongue-in-cheek blast of pop culture and all the popular kids. Even at 110 minutes, that can feel overwhelming and distract from the heart of the story, which is striving for individualism, love, and not being destroyed because a billionaire wants a new playground. Yes, even the characters in video games have a life too--at least according to them.
Parts of "Free Guy" work really well, including a few scenes with a muscle-bound Reynolds look alike having a little fun with the protagonist. Other parts seem tedious and overzealous, as if we are stuck in a game that has a predictable if inviting conclusion. Nothing shocked or left me in awe here. Time passed, laughs happened, and it wasn't a bad experience.
But as I left the theater, the memorable nature of "Free Guy" subsided. Two days later as I write this review, I don't recall any extremely funny parts or emotional cannonballs hitting me in the chest. Sometimes, you leave a movie and just think, "that was fine."
"Free Guy" blends nostalgic movie worlds with hardcore gamer fantasies, pushing a friendly-looking cast and easy morals/values that aren't difficult to ascertain once it's over. I felt the humor in Levy's film, but missed the heartfelt notes.