I’m a Ryan Reynolds fan.
If he had made the Deadpool movies and nothing else, I would still be a Ryan Reynolds fan. He has that likeable star quality that works, in everything he’s in.
So, I was excited about Free Guy. For some inexplicable reason, I hadn’t been paying a lot of attention to the preview clips or trailers so I walked into the theater with a relatively clean slate.
What followed was an opening reel that had me thinking that I was in for one of the longest two hours of my life; a loud, noisy, frenetic, bank shootout taking place in a violent videogame world.
I’ve seen this kind of mind numbing schtick too many times before. The splashiness and chaos just weren’t working for me.
That wasn’t to say there wasn’t an interesting hook beneath it all—the story of a mild-mannered bank teller, Guy (Reynolds) who is a minor background character in all this mess.
A guy who wakes up every morning in his sunny little virtual world to embark on the same set of events that repetitiously unfold every day of his life.
He says 'good morning' to his goldfish, eats some breakfast, grabs his nerdy bank teller outfit from a closet filled with identical outfits, and heads off to work.
Along the way he encounters his best friend cop Buddy (Lil Rel Howery) and they cheerily grab their usual cup of morning coffee and stroll to work.
But things take an ugly turn at work every day when terrifying armed robbers show up and shoot the place up with automatic weapons.
It’s a scary but regular routine. A Groundhog Day kind of time loop from which Guy can never seem to escape.
Like so many of us, he feels like he’s trapped in something huge and ominous that he can never hope to change.
But things do change one day when he sees an attractive armed woman (Jodie Comer) who wanders into the bank heist scenario. He feels himself drawn to her. His obsession with her begins to shatter his pointless, predictable existence.
Things begin to change. For one thing, he suddenly sees a whole other level of reality when he views his world through the cool sunglasses he’s commandeered from one of the scary bank robbers.
It’s an eye-opening epiphany, a little reminiscent of that old Roddy Piper movie They Live ! (1988) in which special sunglasses reveal a glimpse into a sinister, alien-infested reality that most people can’t see.
Guy soon discovers the truth about his existence—that he’s essentially just a background extra in a digital reality that isn’t really real.
What he doesn’t know is that his creators, a brilliant young couple, have added programming to his character that would allow him to grow and evolve. He’s the prototype of a new A.I., one that can change the rules and fundamentally change the game itself, in a profound way.
We’ve seen machines becoming conscious and self-aware in many other movies.
HAL 9000 is probably the granddaddy of them all in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). It’s unsettling when machines make the jump from data processing to actual thinking and reasoning.
Here, it’s less scary than interesting. Guy finds himself falling in love in a world that is soon to end.
As it turns out, the maniacal mastermind (Taika Waititi) who owns the company that employs the two genius programmers wants to shut down “Free City” in order to create a newer, updated version that all the gamers and fans will have to buy. The clock is ticking.
As in many great suspense movies, the action takes place along two parallel story lines.
There is the dilemma taking place in "Free City" with Guy and his romantic love interest, not to mention the impending destruction of his digital domain, as it were.
There is also the tension happening in the real world revolving around the corporation that created "Free City."
While the opening of the film is a bit jarring, intentionally, like it or hate it, the narrative settles down into a compelling story with a lot going on.
It’s well-written, well directed and well produced. And it’s a story that attempts to do more than just entertain.
Social commentary about videogames, violence and crime (both fantasy and real) and guns is sprinkled in for good measure.
Admittedly, there is a lot of borrowed baggage here. We’ve seen the whole alternate universe theme done in The Matrix movies.
We’ve seen the premise of someone becoming sucked into a video game done many times, maybe most notably in Disney’s Tron (1982).
The idea of living in an artificial reality with finite parameters has been done in movies like The Truman Show (1998) and Dark City (1998).
Free Guy may be derivative, but it makes up for that by being charming and entertaining.
It’s the kind of movie that reminds you of projects like Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, starring Jim Carrey (2004). Offbeat, but unforgettable.
Free Guy may turn out to be the sleeper summer movie hit of 2021. Director Sean Levy knows his way around crazy comedies like the Night at the Museum movies. This is right up his alley.
Adding to the fun are a few cameos (including one mind-blowing one) and some pop movie references.
I’m not giving anything away here. As always, NO spoilers!
Suffice it to say that Free Guy is a refreshingly upbeat movie about personal liberation and breaking the bonds of all the things that can hold us back in our lives.
It’s about hope and inspiration.
It’s about not just settling for having a good day. It’s about having a truly great day.
Free Guy is in theaters August 13.
Photos courtesy Walt Disney Studios.