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Free Guy (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jul 18, 2023

FREE GUY (2021)

Starring Ryan Reynolds, Jodie Comer, Joe Keery, Lil Rel Howery, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Taika Waititi, Camille Kostek, Aaron W. Reed, Matty Cardarople, Leah Procito, Kimberly Howe, Tait Fletcher, Tyler Blevins, Anastasia Tsikhanava, Britne Oldford, Jacksepticeye, Ninja, Pokimane, DanTDM, LazarBeam, Channing Tatum, Chris Evans and Alex Trebek.

Screenplay by Matt Lieberman and Zak Penn.

Directed by Shawn Levy.

Distributed by 20th Century Studios. 115 minutes. Rated PG-13.

We’ve all seen them, those random background characters in video games who only exist to be shot, beaten, stabbed or run over. There is a reason why they are in the background – they are supposed to be nameless faceless masses that a gamer will not give a second thought to shooting with an AK-47.

But what about their lives? What about their hopes and dreams? Do they love? Do they care? Do they have a favorite ice cream flavor? Are they football or basketball fans? Do they want to go to the beach? Do they like their job? What do they feel about their tenuous lot in life?

That is pretty much the concept behind Free Guy, a surprisingly funny and charming action comedy which takes place (at least partially) in a video game world. It revolves around Guy (Ryan Reynolds) – one of those NPCs (non-playable characters) – a teller at a cyber bank which is robbed multiple times a day.

He goes through a daily ritual because it’s all he knows – wake up, talk to his pet fish, stop at the coffee shop (always the same order), walk to the bank, talk to his friend the security guard, get robbed (several times a day) and then go home. Sometimes he will get shot, or stabbed, or thrown across the room, but he always wakes up back in bed like nothing ever happened.

He lives in awe of the players – he only knows them as the ones with sunglasses – because their lives are so glamorous and exciting. He doesn’t realize that his entire world is a long stream of algorithms and pixels. What happens if he becomes discontented with his lot? What happens if he falls in love?

And fall in love he does, with an avatar named Molotovgirl (Jodie Comer) – who is actually the online presence of Millie, a gamer and programmer. Millie is trying to prove that the game “Free City” was built off of technology stolen from a game that she built with Keys (Joe Keery). It was bought by the monolithic Soonami games and quickly shelved by that company’s eccentric boss Antwan (Taika Waititi).

It turns out that it was, and that they had created an actual artificial intelligence program, letting the computerized characters grow and learn. Guy (known as the Blue Shirt Guy) is proof of that breakthrough, rebelling against his programming and trying to become a hero to prove his worthiness to Molotovgirl. However, Antwan is willing to burn down the “Free City” world in order to cover up what happened.

Free Guy is certainly not the most original film out there. It cribs ideas from everything from Tron to The Truman Show to The Matrix to Groundhog Day to Wreck-It Ralph to Ready Player One to Surrogates to Bliss to Space Jam. Still, it’s a clever idea and Free Guy does a surprisingly smart and funny job with the high concept, to the point that it is arguably better than most (or perhaps all) of those films just listed. (Only Groundhog Day, The Truman Show and Wreck-It Ralph even are in the race.)

One of the reasons that Free Guy works as well as it does is because it is not just a mindless action film. In fact, it works just as well (if not even better) as a romantic comedy. The relationships between Guy and Molotovgirl (and Millie and Keys in real life) are charming and sweet.

It also knows the gaming world – there are cameos by several YouTube and Twitch influencers portraying themselves.

I am not going to lie; I didn’t have high expectations going into the screening of Free Guy. I’m happy to say that I was wrong. Free Guy is one of the most enjoyable films I’ve seen this summer.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2021 All rights reserved. Posted: August 13, 2021.


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