Combustible Celluloid
With: Ryan Reynolds, Jodie Comer, Taika Waititi, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Joe Keery, Lil Rel Howery, Camille Kostek
Written by: Matt Lieberman, Zak Penn, based on a story by Matt Lieberman
Directed by: Shawn Levy
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for strong fantasy violence throughout, language and crude/suggestive references
Running Time: 115
Date: 08/13/2021

Free Guy (2021)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Game Thrower

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

A tad formulaic and not quite as edgy as it might have been, Shawn Levy's video game comedy instead gets by on an unwavering cheerfulness, unvarnished likability, and a steady stream of solid giggles.

Guy (Ryan Reynolds) is an NPC, a "non-player character" in a game called Free City. He loves his life. He wakes up, bids "good morning" to his goldfish, buys a coffee, and goes to work at the bank with his best pal Buddy (Lil Rel Howery) — which is frequently robbed — and does it all again the next day. He doesn't know he's an NPC, but he still dreams of meeting someone special. Then, one day, he sees her: Molotov Girl (Jodie Comer).

To spend more time with her, he steals a pair of glasses for himself, and begins "leveling up," doing good deeds rather than acts of violence. In the real world, Guy's acts become internet famous, prompting crooked game developer Antwan (Taika Waititi) to try to shut him, and the game, down. But employee Keys (Joe Keery) — who developed a game that Antoine stole — thinks there's something more to Guy's behavior.

Reynolds is the real selling point of Free Guy, avoiding a repeat of his snarky, look-at-me Deadpool humor and nailing a new kind of sweet naivete, not unlike that of Will Ferrell in Elf or Jim Carrey in The Truman Show. Comer is also quite wonderful, a fully-fleshed out female co-lead rather than just a romantic sidekick. They make a fantastic pair.

Additionally, the movie's visual effects and production design effectively capture the specific feel of a Grand Theft Auto-like video game (although PG-13 rated), which is something most movies have so far failed to achieve. However, bits and pieces do feel borrowed from many, many other movies.

And Levy's careful, streamlined flow prevents Free Guy from ever becoming hugely outrageous, zany, or gut-bustingly funny. Perhaps those things weren't necessary, however, to maintain the movie's sweetness. And — similar to Ted Lasso — the overall messages of kindness, non-violence, and free choice are always refreshing.

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