'Free Guy' Movie Review: A Zany Coming-of-Age Story
Updated: Aug 12
Disclaimer: Advance screening hosted by 20th Century Studios. Free Guy will be released in theaters on August 13th, 2021.
Anyone following Ryan Reynolds' Twitter account for the past year will know that Free Guy has been a passion project for him. Born out of the Disney/Fox merger, this film has been sitting on the shelf for over a year, seemingly piquing the interest of many film fans in that time. The cast’s open enthusiasm surrounding the film seemingly reassured that it would at least be watchable, despite Shawn Levy’s spotty directorial history. So, as the last major summer blockbuster, how does it compare to the rest of our recent flicks?
It's been a while since a movie confused me as much as Free Guy did. Make no mistake, the story is dreadfully easy to understand; what I'm referring to is the overall quality of the film, which I had to spend a couple of hours solidifying my thoughts about.
Free Guy is a near-flawlessly executed movie with an abysmal script. Although there are many high points, the lows come close to ruining the entire film. The foundation is well-built; that being the worldbuilding. As a background character simply following his programming, Reynolds' Guy (unreliably) narrates his life, painting it as a paradise. The dramatic irony sets in as he embarks on his morning walk to work, complete with plane crashes, gunfire, and anarchy at every corner. Despite this, his effusively upbeat attitude is contagious, and life in Free City doesn't seem too bad after all. Harkening back to classic episodes of The Twilight Zone and Groundhog Day, the movie has Guy beginning to suspect all is not right in his life. Levy manages to overcome the monumental task of building a compelling world based on characters who are stoic by nature (with the exception of Guy himself).
Unfortunately, Levy seemed to be more concerned with braggingly showing off the (admittedly transfixing) world than furthering the plot in any meaningful way. The entirety of the second act, while it never lost my attention, did have me twiddling my thumbs impatiently. The only real problem was that the characters found themselves tasked with acquiring the same MacGuffin twice in direct succession. Not only did opting to use the same area twice end up backfiring and make the world feel smaller, but it reduced away from the sense of urgency and the stakes surrounding the vault's supposed impregnability. That said, credit must be given where it's due. Both major action sequences in the second act were a joy to watch and made the story’s flaws more bearable.
The premise, coupled with the overacted characters makes for a great sense of self-awareness surrounding every joke, action, and scene for the vast majority of the movie. It knows its target audience, and feels like a love letter to gamers and games as a whole; even going as far as acknowledging common stigmas about the community. At times, it goes too far with the mentality of appealing to that group; prominently featuring (real-life) YouTubers and streamers as crucial characters in the plot. While there were no problems with the performances of these content creators, the issue lies in the film's long-term "rewatchablilty." If it comes off as dated upon release, two years after filming concluded, one can only imagine how it will look fifteen years down the line.
Without competent acting, a film will instantly fall flat. Luckily, Ryan Reynolds, Lil Rel Howery, and Jodie Comer were all excellent (particularly Howery, who stole the show in Jordan Peele's GET OUT). I would be remiss if I didn't mention the best performance in the movie, which, to the surprise of nobody, is the great Taika Waititi. Waititi might be the greatest rising talent in Hollywood, who just can't seem to fail on either side of the camera. He gives off a sense of sass and charisma outshining all of his scene partners and asserting his dominance over the characters of the game world; something Shawn Levy shows he is aware of through the unique style of direction used in Taika's scenes.
As I touched on earlier, the story overall is weak. It feels like a cross between Ready Player One and any 80s era romance movie (and radiates similar levels of implausibility). At times, I was able to recite lines as they were being said, which is never a good sign when it comes to serious dialogue. Every trope in the book is deployed here, especially in Joe Keery's "Keys," who checks all the boxes for the hacker stereotype.
This is forgivable, however, given the overall pinpoint humor on subjects ranging from pop culture to gun violence. The all-encompassing wackiness of Free Guy cannot be understated and is undoubtedly its biggest strength. The third act, while still cliché, features two jaw-to-floor moments that all viewers with a shred of interest in the film should not spoil for themselves beforehand. It truly is refreshing to see a high-profile original concept with no plans for a sequel. While it doesn't hold up to criticism too well, Free Guy is a perfect summer release for families to watch together (just be prepared for some vulgar jokes and heavy swearing). It's a shame that its box office performance will likely be stunted by the rapidly growing Delta variant.