- Emma Simmonds
- 9 August 2021
Ryan Reynolds does his thing in a derivative but largely fun video game-based fantasy
Competently combining elements of The Lego Movie, The Truman Show and Groundhog Day with a Grand Theft Auto-style open world video game, Free Guy is the latest filmic vehicle to rely heavily on the shtick of star Ryan Reynolds – who also acts as producer. He does his thing here in a way that's much more likeable than his previous outing, The Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard, but hoovers up all the decent dialogue with the supporting cast left with scraps. That wouldn't be so galling if his co-stars were not the comparably charismatic Jodie Comer and Taika Waititi, whose own comic chops are desperately underused.
Shawn Levy (director of Night at the Museum, Date Night and The Internship) is at the helm of this action comedy which follows the eponymous Guy (Reynolds), a bank teller in violent video game 'Free City', who evolves from a non-player character (NPC) into a form of artificial intelligence when he starts to make decisions for himself.
Comer plays Millie, a video game developer who has had her AI engine stolen by Free City's publisher Antwan (Waititi) and is trying to prove that this ground-breaking code is behind the success of his game. She's entered the gameplaying arena as the character of Molotov Girl and is seeking out damning evidence within the game itself. In her efforts, she's assisted by Guy and her former programming partner Keys (Stranger Things' Joe Keery), who now works unhappily for Antwan at his company Soonami.
Despite the derivative nature of the story, the blend of influences works well and the plot has been properly thought through. It nails the casual anarchy and destruction of games like GTA and it's enjoyable watching someone subvert their norms, as Guy begins to ratchet up points for good deeds. There are lots of fun details, decent set-pieces and a game cameo from Channing Tatum, though the film tips over into embarrassing overindulgence with some Marvel and Star Wars nods, facilitated by Disney's acquisition of 20th Century Fox. This also may be as unfunny as we've ever seen Waititi, who is lumbered with a pretty poorly written egomaniac role.
For all its modern bells and whistles, including a liberal application of CGI, there's an old-fashioned feel to the script by Matt Lieberman and Zak Penn. Comer plays the only female character of any remote substance and the way her character is idealised and defined by her potential as a romantic match feels reductive, even if she does get stuck into the action. Yet, in the main, Free Guy is a sprightly piece of fantasy whose slick execution makes up for its lack of original ideas, and, hey, at least it's not another darn sequel.
Available to watch in cinemas from Friday 13 August.