Free Guy

Guy (Ryan Reynolds) awakens happy every day as he dons the same pale blue shirt and chinos, picks up the same coffee order from the same smiling barista and heads to his job as a teller at Free City Bank.  He and security guard Buddy (Lil Rel Howery) endure daily armed robberies, but do nothing because the criminals wear sunglasses, something they recognize as special.  One day, Guy does the unthinkable and grabs a pair off a robber in order to become ‘heroic’ and get the attention of Molotov Girl ('Killing Eve's' Jodie Comer), another shade wearer, who challenges him to wrack up 100 points before she’ll give the naïve young man the time of day.  The glasses have given him an entirely new look at life, but it will be Molotov Girl who breaks the news that he is an NPC, or non playable character, who has broken the mold in the videogame named after his virtual city in “Free Guy.”

Laura's Review: B

If that sounds a bit like “The Lego Movie’s” Emmet Brickowoski running into the world of “They Live,” well, that’s because it is.  Before the movie’s over, you might also recognize the plot of “Cyrano de Bergerac” buried in the code of writers Matt Lieberman (2019's "The Addams Family") and Zak Penn, whose "Ready Player One" adaptation provides more DNA.  And yet rather than coming across as a rip off of better films, director Shawn Levy ("Night at the Museum," "Real Steel") pulls the pieces together into an enjoyable summer popcorn film with wit, action, adventure and romance, Reynolds hitting just the right note of naïve heroics.

If Guy’s days, which include interactions with several other characters like him, initially resemble Emmet’s, Molotov Girl’s reactions to those interactions are like Andy Samberg’s in “Palm Springs,” a bored acknowledgement of events before they happen.  The woman who strides about in a stylish red bob and black leather jumpsuit is our first introduction to one of the real people pulling Guy’s strings, although in her case, its inadvertent, Guy having been programmed by her former partner Keys ('Stranger Things'' Joe Keery) who now works for Soonami Studios’ Antwan (Taika Waititi), the guy who bought their much more humanistic game and who they now suspect has imbedded its self-learning artificial intelligence illegally into Free City.  Keys and Antwan loyalist Mouser (Utkarsh Ambudkar, "Brittany Runs a Marathon")  are perplexed by the disruption in the game, never dreaming Guy is not an actual player, and are tasked with taking him out, which they attempt as cop characters within the game.  Meanwhile Millie, who looks more like the girl next door in real life, convinces Keys that instead they should use Guy to help them expose Antwan by finding where he’s hidden their code.  And the clock is ticking because the imminent release of ‘Free City: Carnage’ will overwrite everything.

Those who happen to see this film at AMC Boston Common will be amused to watch action happening all within blocks of the theater in Boston’s financial and waterfront districts (there is also a scene set on Revere Beach), yet visual effects supervisor Swen Gillberg (“Furious 7”) has done a great job applying a Free City overlay that appears every time Guy dons his glasses, the changing landscape reminiscent of “Inception,” the opportunity for sight gags well mined.  Surprisingly, Waititi doesn’t bring much to the project, most of the humor derived from his stock greedy corporate villain coming from costume designer Marlene Stewart’s exaggerated gamer duds.  In her first leading commercial film role, Comer juggles two romances, but it is the objects of those romances who connect more, both good guys fighting insurmountable odds with underdog charm.  The always dependable Lil Rel Howery is more notable in support and there are multiple humorous cameos from big stars which I won’t spoil here.

“Free Guy’s” inspirations might be easy to spot, but there has been real thought applied to its inner workings.  It’s pop entertainment that works.

Robin's Review: B

Guy (Ryan Reynolds) is a mild-mannered, milquetoast bank teller in Free City. The town’s “royalty” are sunglass-wearing heroes who go about their business, wreaking destruction, unnoticed, throughout the city. His attraction to one very pretty hero causes a major realization: he is a non-playing character (NPC) in an open video game and wants to be a part of the action in “Free Guy.”

If you watch closely, you will see elements of John Carpenter’s “They Live (1988)” and “Groundhog Day (1993)” as a part of the sc-fi action comedy fabric of “Free Guy.” But that homage does not diminish the entertainment value of a story that will appeal to the gamers and non-gamers alike. A big part of this is the likeableness of Ryan Reynolds and the elements mentioned above.

Guy, when we meet him, is blindingly pleasant. He does not wish his bank customers a good day; he wishes them a great day! As he walks to work every morning he is oblivious to all the explosions and mayhem going on around him. Even the daily bank robberies at his workplace are met with as commonplace routine by Guy and the bank guard, his best buddy Buddy (Lil Rel Howery), as they treat it all as another working day.

Then, he sees Molotov Girl (Jodie Comer), one of the shades-wearing heroes, and he becomes full smit. But, his attraction to the tough lady leads to the discovery that he is just the non-consequential bits and bytes of an NPC.

The plot of the story comes into play when Guy realizes what he is – the invention of a game designer’s (here, Mille (Comer in a dual role) and Keys (Joe Keery). Things get critical when the gaming company CEO, Antwan (Taika Waititi), decides to launch the successor to Free City, the non-compatible Free City 2.

The new game’s release would mean the end of Guy and all the other NPC left behind. It would also break Antwan’s promise to Millie and Keys that the new game would preserve those elements from the original. Of course, he lied and it is up to Guy, Molotov Girl/Millie and Keyes to make things right and save Free City. I will leave it up to you to guess what happens.

While I have not been a fan, or even interested, in the MCE and DCEU worlds, I do appreciate a decent story and good characters, both of which are a part of “Free Guy.” As I read my synopsis above, I realize the parallel to the current plight to save the Afghani translators and their families. I hope they have a resolution like Guy’s.

20th Century Studios releases "Free Guy" in theaters on 8/6/21.