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Review: Free Guy (2021)

Free Guy (2021)

Directed by: Shawn Levy

Premise: A non-player character (Ryan Reynolds) in an internet-based video game comes alive and questions the nature of his existence. He works with a female player (Jodie Comer) who is searching for a secret code embedded in the game.

What Works: Free Guy is a likable science fiction comedy. The scenario is not altogether original. The story nods to TRON, The Matrix, They Live, and The Truman Show but it doesn’t come across as a rehash. Free Guy has a light touch and a consistently affable tone and it inverts the protagonist’s goal. In a lot of these kinds of movies the lead character realizes that he is trapped inside of a virtual prison and tries to escape; Free Guy is about a character realizing the truth of his existence and transforming it into something more pleasant. Free Guy is also quite similar to a few recent films, namely The LEGO Movie and Ralph Breaks the Internet and Space Jam: A New Legacy. But there is a notable distinction between Free Guy and those recent movies: the lack of obvious product placement. So many of these other films cram in brands and intellectual property, often with little purpose other than name recognition, and those movies comes across less like a story and more like a marketing showcase. Free Guy keeps the product placement to a minimum and the references that are included serve a purpose. Free Guy stars Ryan Reynolds in the lead role. This is one of Reynolds better performances because it plays to his strengths but also requires some range; Reynolds is known for playing sarcastic characters but Guy is naïve and earnest in a way that’s endearing. That’s the other outstanding quality of Free Guy. It’s a feel-good movie but never gets unduly sentimental. It’s ultimately a film about goodness and human connection and the movie manages to be a little bit subversive in the way it critiques how those qualities are often devalued in some of the most popular forms of entertainment.

What Doesn’t: The premise of Free Guy includes a tension that it never satisfactorily resolves. Guy’s consciousness is awakened by his encounter with Millie, played by Jodie Comer. His affection for her sets the plot in motion; Guy goes about manipulating the video game and changing his life so that he accrues enough user privileges to be with her. But it’s all for naught because Millie is in the physical world where Guy cannot go. Millie also has a burgeoning love story with a fellow computer programmer (Joe Keery), setting up a potential love triangle. Free Guy sidesteps both of these issues. The filmmakers spare us a cliché love triangle but the resolution of Guy’s motivation doesn’t come to a satisfactory conclusion. 

Bottom Line: Free Guy is a highly enjoyable mix of action and comedy. Its muddled love story is more than compensated by the friendships between the characters and movie’s irresistible affability.

Episode: #865 (August 22, 2021)