“Free Guy” stars Ryan Reynolds as Guy, a mild-mannered bank teller whose life is cheerfully mundane. Every day he wears the same blue shirt, drinks the same generic coffee, makes the same jokes, and patiently endures bank robberies and crime sprees from people wearing special sunglasses. One day he meets a sunglasses woman named Molotov (Jodie Comer) who convinces him to try a pair of sunglasses on for himself. It turns out that Guy’s whole world is a thrilling video game called “Free City,” and the sunglasses people are players, most of whom are committing crimes to rack up points. Guy and all his friends, like security guard Buddy (Lil Rel Howery), are Non-Playable Characters, created to have no more than a few traits. But if there’s so little to Guy, then why is he developing feelings for Molotov?
Millie, the human player behind Molotov, is on a mission to recover some code she wrote that was stolen by the game’s greedy owner Antwan (Taika Waititi), which she can use to win a lawsuit. She wrote the code along with her friend Keys (Joe Keery), who programmed the characters to respond to Millie. Guy was the first NPC to notice her, which is why he of all characters is becoming sentient. Millie and Keys haven’t just created characters or a game, they’ve created artificial intelligence. The tech is worth a fortune, but it also means Millie and Keys have a responsibility to keep the characters alive. Antwan doesn’t want robots thinking for themselves – in the game or in the workplace – so he orders Guy terminated. Fortunately Guy is now capable of self-preservation, so the game is on.
The movie prides itself on originality in a summer full of sequels and reboots, but just because it isn’t part of a franchise doesn’t mean it’s doing anything new. Obvious influences from “Wreck-it Ralph” and “The Truman Show,” among others, make the movie a bit of a slog story-wise. Plus the movie gets stuck in a loop in the third act where Antwan repeatedly orders Guy destroyed and his team throws a new obstacle at him that he can overcome.
The movie may be a disappointment in the story department, but there are plenty of fun bells and whistles along the way. “Free City” is a bright and colorful place, with creative action around every corner. You might see a cop in a bunny suit, you might see a person fall from the top of a building and be saved by an inflatable bodysuit. I’m sure there were even more goodies in the margins and backgrounds that I missed. Cameos litter the film, and while I don’t want to give away too many surprises, the trailers have given away a posthumous appearance by “Jeopardy” host Alex Trebek, an indication of how long this film has been waiting to be released. I will say that one non-Trebek cameo where the star was clearly allowed to just riff without direction, goes on too long and is the low point of the film.
The real charm of “Free Guy” lies in the likeability of its leads. The characters played by Reynolds, Comer, Keery, and Howery are all people you’ll want to spend time with, not just as they go on adventures, but even when they’re just talking to each other. Charisma and chemistry like that is something that can’t be programmed, it comes from the heart.
“Free Guy” is rated PG-13 for strong fantasy violence throughout, language, and crude/suggestive references. Its running time is 115 minutes.
Robert R. Garver is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at New York University. His weekly movie reviews have been published since 2006.