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Review: 'Free Guy' aims low despite an interesting premise

Film Review - Free Guy
Posted at 6:39 PM, Aug 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-13 18:39:59-04

Tom Santilli is a respected journalist and member of the Critics Choice Association, Detroit Film Critics Society and Online Film Critics Society since 2010. Tom is the Executive Producer and co-host of the syndicated TV show, "Movie Show Plus," which has been on the air for 20+ years in the Metro-Detroit market and Mid-West. He is also the film critic for WXYZ-TV. Twitter: @tomsantilli, Facebook & Instagram: @filmsurvivor.

Are there any comedies that movie studios are willing to green-light anymore, that don't star Ryan Reynolds?

Since his starring role in 2016's "Deadpool," Reynolds has been one of the hottest comedic commodities in Hollywood. But is the Ryan Reyn-aissance starting to over stay its welcome? One might begin to think so, judging by his latest romp.

"Free Guy" is part "The Truman Show," part "The Matrix" and part "Groundhog Day," with not even one pixel of the same creative spark or ingenuity of any of these films. It aims low and succeeds in hitting its target, I guess, but with a little care, "Free Guy" could have been so much more.

Grade: C

Shawn Levy - known mostly for his "Night at the Museum" films - never expands "Free Guy" into anything more than a missed opportunity. A popular video game created by the self-righteous douchebag Antoine (Taika Waititi) called "Free City" is the most popular game in all the land (so popular, that in the film, it pops up as a question on Jeopardy, with a cameo from the late Alex Trebek). Within the game are several "NPCs" (non-player characters), that have very specific duties and little depth...they are there for the actual players of the game to interact with. Guy (Reynolds) is one such NPC, a bank teller who goes about every day the same exact way as he's programmed, who casually chats with his best friend, Buddy (Lil Rel Howery), a security guard at the bank, while they face daily armed robberies and other crimes happening all around them. Such is life as a resident of Free City.

Outside of the game-world, a hacker (Jodie Comer) is logging into the game and trying to find something buried deep within it...stolen code that was created by her and her ex-boyfriend, Keys (Joe Keery), who now also happens to work for Antoine's company. It seems that, in fact, the entirety of Free City was based on their algorithms, yet they were given no credit. Another coder in the office, Mouser (Utkarsh Ambudkar), is loyal to Antoine and is keeping an eye on Keys and his former hacker girlfriend.

When this hacker's avatar within the game runs into Guy, Guy starts to glitch...he begins to be able to think for himself and act on his own accord. "Blue Shirt Guy," as he becomes known, is an absolute anomaly...so popular with players that Antoine decides to let him roam free for a while...until he learns that Guy is assisting the hacker, perhaps unknowingly.

Those familiar with "open world" video games like "Grand Theft Auto" will get several more kicks out this movie than most over the age of 25 who may need a debriefing once the movie concludes. The premise of Guy being stuck inside a video game that is his only reality, is an interesting update on "The Truman Show" concept, but instead of wanting to dig deep into the human psyche or make any astute observations as to our screen-addicted society, "Free Guy" would rather stick to the lowest common denominator and just try to make us laugh and blow some stuff up. Look, it's not like every movie has to be intellectually challenging, but given the universe that "Free Guy" establishes, one can't help but feel like it was a big missed opportunity to not do so.

The laughs come mostly in the first half of the movie, with Reynolds playing a version of the same exact character he has played in several other previous films. It's honestly getting a bit tired, as is Lil Rel Howery showing up in nearly every movie as the lovable, wise-cracking sidekick friend. Taika Waititi, a talented director and one of the funniest humans on the planet, is god-awful in the role, and everything inside and outside of the video game feels hollow and empty.

The film's logic is best forgotten, and even without the slightest bit of knowledge about how coding a video game works, I'm almost certain that it doesn't operate the way it does in "Free Guy." There are more than a few unnecessary, convoluted subplots that further muddy things up, to the point of nausea.

If "Free Guy" was a video game, it'd be the kind that you play for a while, but you'd find that it doesn't have much depth to it and just isn't all that fun after all...it gets monotonous as it goes along and is as nondescript as its bland central hero. Even with the occasional laugh or funny cameo (and there are more than a few), "Free Guy" ultimately feels buried under a sea of confusion...there's some good in there, somewhere, but b the end it's nearly impossible to locate.

Grade: C

Genre: Comedy, Action, Sci-Fi.
Run Time: 1 hour 55 minutes.
Rated PG-13.

​Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Jodie Comer, Lil Rel Howery, Taika Waititi, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Joe Keery.

Directed by Shawn Levy ("Night at the Museum: Secret Tomb," "Real Steel," "Date Night," "Night at the Museum," "Cheaper by the Dozen").

​"Free Guy" is in theaters on Friday, August 13th, 2021.