Monday, August 16, 2021

Film Review: Free Guy

 Sexuality/Nudity Mature

Violence Acceptable
Vulgarity Mature
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Acceptable

This is another movie where the concept does not live up to the execution.

Free Guy is the story of Guy (Ryan Reynolds), a Non Playable Character in a Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game called Free City.  Guy does not know that his world is just a video game.  He is an average guy who gets pushed around by the game users.  He spends his free time hanging out with his best friend Buddy (Lil Rel Howery).  But one day he comes across the player Millie (Jodie Comer) and falls in love.  Millie is on a mission to prove that the game creator Antoine (Taika Waititi) stole a game she designed with her friend Keys (Joe Keery) who now works for Free City.  Guy gets drawn in her mission and enters a journey of self-discovery about the truth of the world around him.

The movie has several problems that prevent it from being more than a fine, forgettable piece of entertainiment.

The first thing is that it seems to cost on its premise.  The idea of an NPC coming alive and throwing the dynamic of an MMORPG out of balance is actually very intersting and funny.  But the script thinks that this clever premise is enough.  The jokes are sporadically funny, but a lot of that has to do with Reynolds and Comer.  The way the other NPC's brush off the mayhem imposed on them is humorous, but the script never gives the jokes enough punch to make them truly funny.  Instead we are left with a middling feeling that you get when you see how a joke is funny but it doesn't make you laugh.

Another problem is the villain.  Taika Waititi is very popular as a director, but this movie highlights one very important reality: he cannot act.  His Antoine is not only completely flat, but the performance is lifeless.  He stalks around like and over acts like a freshman in a high school production of Grease.  His voice inflection and facial expresssions don't match up.  He delivers the WORST reading of the line "Whatchu talkin' about, Willis?" I have ever heard, and I have watched several seasons of Diff'rent Strokes.  With a villain this hollow, the threat is less serious.

The movie is also too long.  At nearly two hours, it drags a bit longer than it should as you wait for the movie to cross the hurdles of the requisette story beats.

There is also a scene with Channing Tatum that has several increadibly dirty innuendos that would be fine in an R-Rated film, but feel very out of place in a PG-13 film.  This cameo and the cameos of several Twitch streamers serve to take you more out of the movie than draw you into it.  And that is in addition to hot button cultural words like "privilidge" and "toxic" that only break the escapist illusion that movies are meant to give.

But one of the biggest problems is the ending.  I will try to be as vague as possible, but I don't think I can explain it without giving away spoilers so:


The entire movie we follow Guy and his awakening humanity.  This happens primarily through his love for Millie.  Throuhought the movie, she slowly falls for him, at first thinking he is just another player.  But even after they realize he is an NPC, their affection is real and serves as the emotional core of the movie.  We find out part way through that Keys wrote Guy to be someone hopelessly in love with Millie. 

But the love between Guy and Millie continues as the throughline until the last few scenes.  Suddenly, with very little set-up, the movie pulls a How I Met Your Mother finale.  That is as vague as I can be about why the ending is so unsatisfying.


Despite all of the above, Free Guy is not a bad movie.  There is enough to like about it from it descending into chaos.  

The biggest assest are Reynolds and Comer.  Reynolds plays his Guy broadly, but infuses him wiht such an an enthusiastic earnestness that you cannot help but be charmed by him.  Comer does an excellent job of showing the difference between her online persona and her real-world introvert and how this separation slowly breaks down because of Guy.  Keery does a fine job, but he has little to work with.  The same is true for Utkarsh Ambudkar, whose character has a kind of arc, but it has little impact on the story.  Howery is funny and charming, but his part requires very little for him to do except be himself.

When the movie tries to get philosophical about the meaning of existence, it veers a bit into a kind of existentialism.  However, there was a moment when Buddy is confronted with the possibility that the world isn't real.  He delivers one of the best lines in the movie where he says, "I'm here with my best friend, trying to help him through a tough time.  If that ain't real, I don't know what is."  It was a nice moment that reminds us that love is at the heart of reality and that if our existence is to have any meaning or purpose, it has to be rooted in love.

The movie also has a moment towards the end where it shamelessly exploits its access to popular IP's.  It is both cheap fan-service but also irresestistably enjoyable.  It reminds me of a watered-down version of the the finale to Rogue One.

Finally, I loved that that repurposed the score from the animated short Paperman for this movie.  That little cartoon had one of the nicest scores I have heard and it struck a strong emotional chord as it played in this film.

Free Guy was a fair, somewhat fun diversion at the theater.  There aren't a lot of big laughs, but you may have just a bit of fun.

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