If your idea of fun is watching Ryan Reynolds play a character in a video game for an hour and 55 minutes, Free Guy may seem like an amusing look at a video game character who develops self-awareness.
A vaguely interesting question arises: What if said character starts to tire of the routine that makes him part of the scenery instead of a character with agency and clout?
As for me, I found it difficult to connect with a movie which has been directed by Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum) with the ping and pizazz of a game world in which there are average Joes and characters who don glasses that put them into an action-oriented reality that’s visible only to them. Think of it as a form of privilege that allows participation in social mayhem.
Reynolds plays Guy, an NPC (non-player character) * who follows the same routine every day: He awakens in his bland apartment, puts on the same clothes (blue shirt and slacks), stops for coffee, and heads for his job as a bank teller.
As part of the game, thugs rob the bank multiple times in a day, forcing Guy and his security guard pal (Lil Rel Howery) to the ground. They nonchalantly react to what has become as routine for them as coffee breaks.
But Guy feels something's missing from his life, notably a love interest. But what woman would want to fall for an NPC?
When Guy sees Molotov Girl (an action-oriented character and major player in the game) he’s love-struck. The script soon contrives to give him a pair of the transforming glasses and, bingo, Guy's in the game.
He pursues the woman who has stirred his heart — or whatever organ an NPC might have, the one that makes him want to share bubblegum-flavored ice cream with his dream girl.
Shades of movies such as The Truman Show and Ready Player One waft through Levy’s half-bright movie, which is presented as a kind of romp through weightier questions.
Outside the game, we meet Keys (Joe Keery) who works for the company that controls the game (it’s called Free City). Taika Waititi plays Antoine, the entrepreneur who stole the game and believes in nothing but maximizing profit.
Jodie Comer portrays Millie, the designer of the game Antoine stole. She participates in the game through an avatar, a character who happens to be Guy's heartthrob, Molotov Girl.
If I hadn’t seen Comer’s brilliant work as an assassin in Killing Eve, I probably wouldn’t have given her much thought. Ryan easily handles a character who leaps from nebbish to hero in a movie that allows him to ditch his snide side.
For non-gamers, the movie may prove mildly confusing, although, for some, simply watching the parade of effects may suffice.
I suppose there’s an audience for movies such as Free Guy.
I found myself longing for the old pinball machines that could be jarred into a “tilt,” which would — of course — end the game in less than the hour and 55 minutes it takes for Free Guy to reach inside its virtual chest and put its artificial heart on its computer-generated sleeve.
*A reader helped educate me about the acronym NPC. I originally called it a non-participatory character. The correct designation is non-player character. The review has been amended to reflect the correction.