Yet another long-awaited delay due to the world events at hand, FREE GUY has been a simple movie poster of Ryan Reynolds slowly tearing a T-shirt and many people wondering exactly when this movie would come out. Would it go straight to video on demand services, or would it just wait it out for when more theatres reopened? With its original July 2020 release date, I was worried that we’d see a Disney+ streaming release at some point in the winter of last year, but the studio decided to wait it out as they knew the audiences would be there when theatres returned.
And for this film fan I also wanted to wait it out, even though I have always wanted to like fellow BC/Canadian Ryan Reynolds, with the chiseled good looks and deadpan snark of his seems to be in every single performance of his, and less of a trademark than a stubborn refusal to wiggle out of his own comfort zone. It seems that every movie he is in has the exact same type of performance. Right up to the recent THE HITMAN’S WIFE’S BODYGUARD (which I did NOT review positively earlier this summer) along with the DEADPOOL movies, I know that Reynolds is capable of more. To my delight, the finally-released FREE GUY contains one of his best performances in a light-hearted and visually spectacular new comedy.
The fun premise involves Guy (Reynolds) who is a Non-Playable-Character (or NPC as the gamers like to call it) in a very popular video game called FREE CITY. His day-to-day routine of working at a bank along with his security guard friend Buddy (Lil Rey Howery) seems to be going along just fine until he spots a character named Molotov Girl (Jodi Comer) who totally throws him off his standard path. It’s here where everything goes chaotic, when Guy gets a special pair of glasses that reveal the game that he’s in and the power that he has to break through the game and become a new person.
Immediate thoughts come to mind of THE TRUMAN SHOW mixed with THE LEGO MOVIE with a touch of THE MATRIX in for good measure, but I really admired the world that FREE GUY operates in this computer programmed world where it seems that anything goes. The heightened reality visuals, where there seems to be always something happening in every single wide shot, is worth the price of admission alone. And I don’t know if it was just me, but I even noticed a subtle but effective animated feel to it; while we do see the actual game footage that is clearly animated, the in-game “footage” also has a light animated spark to it that I thought was really cool. The movie gave me a lot of big laughs when Guy takes advantage of the game benefits when he isn’t supposed to, and the connections that it has into the real world.
To my delight as well, I discovered the filmmaker is Shawn Levy, a really underrated studio filmmaker who has had some really solid studio pictures like REAL STEEL, THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU and BIG FAT LIAR, but I always remember his incredibly funny 2010 comedy DATE NIGHT with Steve Carrell and Tina Fey. That movie took a clever premise of a bored married couple discovering each other, and he handled both comedy and action well. Here, he gets out one of Reynold’s best performances and handles his “acting is reacting” approach a lot better. He’s a lot of fun to watch. The real star-making performance here, however, is Jodi Comer as Molotov Girl. We see her both as her game character and in real life, and she has such confidence and energy in both roles that I think her performance will be the one everyone remembers, along with the star cameos and even some popular game-players and streamers that I overheard audience members audibly reacting when they showed up. They know more than me, so I’ll take their word for it.
So of course, FREE GUY is a lot of fun. It has a fairly familiar premise but it’s taken to fun colorful heights with a great visual design and I was never bored. I have the usual criticisms of its overlong running time (even at about 115 minutes with the VERY long credits, there’s a bit too much padding), and there’s also a bit too much forced comedy with Taika Waititi in the computer programming sequences where I felt some of the jokes were far too explained; when you have to say what the reference is, you have immediately lost the punchline. But when the action revs up and a lot of Levy’s trademark cameos time perfectly (there is one great superhero cameo that is so perfectly timed I embarrassed myself at the screening) it really works. With most movie theatres now back open and the crowds starting to make their way back, FREE GUY is one worth watching with a big, or socially distanced, audience.
FREE GUY is now playing in theatres in North America.