A bank teller discovers that he's actually an NPC inside a brutal, open world video game. (from IMDB)
Shawn Levy, the director who brought you the Night at the Museum franchise, Tina Fey and Steve Carell's Date Night, and served as a producer for Stranger Things, now brings us the COVID-delayed action comedy, Free Guy. Co-produced by star Ryan Reynolds, Free Guy is a video game lover's dream, as it imagines what it might be like if an NPC - "Non Playable Character" - suddenly decided it was bored with its mundane existence and started becoming a hero. Reynolds plays the character with charm, naivety and range to give us a hilarious character to love and root for.
Free Guy opens within the world of "Free City," showing us a normal day in the life of Guy, a bank teller who loves his goldfish, to have the same coffee everyday and is used to the bank he works for getting held up several times each day. The movie begins feeling a lot like if Groundhog Day, Elf, The LEGO Movie and The Truman Show had a child together pretty quickly - with plenty of Ready Player One thrown in for good measure. Guy basically relives the same day over and over (Groundhog Day), possesses a lovable childlike wonder and innocence (Buddy the Elf in Elf and Emmet in The LEGO Movie) without realizing his world is utterly fake and exists expressly for the enjoyment of others (The Truman Show). While elements of the movie feel familiar, Free Guy also feels fresh. As a fan of video games myself, I got a lot of the in-jokes, and understood the world of Guy, while my wife who is less versed in the gaming culture still loved it for its sheer entertainment and comedic value.
Like The Truman Show or Ready Player One, the story is often split between the in-verse story and the real world story. The real world is populated by a series of characters who were involved in making the game "Free City," and work for a game designer named Antwan (Taika Waititi) who is basically a jerk who cares more about numbers and making a buck than his own employees (something that is all-too-relatable in the entertainment industry of any kind). Stranger Things' Joe Kerry, who is probably most famous for playing Steve in that series, is a programmer nicknamed "Keys" here, and often teams up with the movie's female lead, Millie (AKA Molotovgirl in the game world), who is trying to prove Antwan stole the framework of their original game design. Things unfold that explain why Guy is doing what he's doing, and it proves that the multi-layered Free Guy is more than just a comedy, action movie, or video game movie; it ends up being a really fun romp through a digital world.
Sadly, Free Guy is more like Levy's ventures Date Night and Stranger Things than Night at the Museum. One scene shows two pre-teen girls playing on their computers and a young girl who can't be more than 12 years old says "Smoke that motherf--" and is cut off before she finishes the profanity. It's meant to shock the viewer into laughing, but... yikes. A little while later, while we see a brief montage of Guy waking up and greeting his pet goldfish, Goldie, he ends the montage by emphatically saying "Good f---ing morning, Goldie!" which is hardly subtle and seems out of character for Guy (but not Reynolds). Guy only occasionally uses profanity, with surprisingly emphasized uses of "g*dd*mn" on occasion, and makes a bizarre analogy to Jesus when he takes a sip of coffee and, to express his joy about the taste, says, "It tastes like Jesus washed my tongue, but before he finished, he told my dad that he was enough." (Or something like that.) Again, it feels more like Reynolds than Guy. Some crude humor is peppered throughout the movie, with a lot of it stemming from Channing Tatum's cameo as a player skin for a creepy guy who stays at home all day gaming in his mom's house. Tatum, as the brilliantly named Revenjamin Buttons, is shown doing all kinds of suggestive dance moves, and is seen yelling at his mom about not touching a "sock" that, if she touched it, would have her in therapy for the rest of her life because that's his "special sock" (double yikes). There are also several jokes about virginity. The first is when Guy is first enjoying his cup of coffee in the morning and says "It's like losing my virginity, but in my mouth!" And later, Millie's character tells Guy, thinking he's a real world player, that he'll be a virgin forever because of his personality and attitude. Otherwise, there's still a quite a bit of language in the movie, with a heap of "h*ll" used by characters, and in a song that plays twice in the movie, over a dozen uses of the "S" word, and some other blasphemy. Lastly, there's a ton of violence in the movie, mostly exaggerated gun violence due to the world of Free City being a video game. The difference here is, however, while it's supposed to be a video game, it looks like the real world most of the time. Guy gets tossed around like a rag doll from time to time, often resulting in his "death" in the game. Other characters are gunned down, execution style, blown up, run over, etc. If you're familiar with video games like GTA, Fortnite or even Sims, none of it should be all that shocking, but it'll especially be violent to those not used to it. Still, most of it is done in a comedic fashion. With all of the violence, however, it's seldom graphic or bloody. When Guy first tries to rebel, he's beaten up by a bank robber and has his nose broken, with it being visibly bent with blood on his face. (It goes away when he discovers the magic of a medpack pickup.) When we see an in-game lobby with game replay screens, one of them briefly shows a video game-style player getting hit in the face in slow motion with a little blood spraying and a tooth flying from their mouth. Lastly, in the same aforementioned bank robbing sequence, Guy grabs the robber's shotgun and accidentally shoots him. We then see a big circular hole through the player character's body and burning embers around the hole.
Edgy content aside, Free Guy is just a lot of fun. You don't have to be an avid gamer to appreciate it, and Reynolds brings his A-game as Guy. Jodie Comer (Millie) and Kerry are really likeable as the human heroes in the real world, and Acadamey-Award-winning director Waititi is appropriately annoying as the film's villain, Antwan. The movie surprisingly has a message about purpose and how we choose to live our lives. When a character starts to question their purpose in life and what it's all meant for, a friend reassures them that just being in the moment for your friends and with people you love is all the purpose and meaning you would need. Sure, it misses the grand spiritual meaning of the Christian life, but it was a surprisingly deep and meaningful moment for a movie about artificial intelligence and video games to throw at its audience.
Free Guy is a wildly entertaining action comedy that delivers on a clever premise in a time when very little coming out of Hollywood is feeling fresh or unique. Video game fans will especially appreciate this one -- it's just unfortunate that Levy and his team couldn't keep some of the language and crude humor out of it so younger viewers can enjoy it, too.
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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