What the film lacks in humour is made up in its well-written characters
Director Shawn Levy is no stranger to comedy, The Pink Panther, Night at the Museum to name a few. Levy’s latest film, Free Guy, on the other hand falls short of the mark with its crude teenage humour and overdone gaming references, only salvaged by Ryan Reynolds’ stellar performance.
Meet Guy. He wakes up one Monday morning, greets his goldfish, has breakfast, slips into his work clothes and heads to his job at the bank. Normal enough (minus the goldfish). Except that on the way to said bank he runs into countless shootings, is present at a corner shop robbery and stares down the wrong end of a shotgun when he finally arrives at work. Decisively, less normal.
Free Guy, tells the story of Guy, a bank teller who lives in Free City – a virtual city inside of the massively successful online video game by the same name. Bored of the monotony of daily life, Guy wonders if there is more to the world than being punched, kicked and shot at on a daily basis by rabid, Red Bull-guzzling gamers. By some twist of fate, he runs into Molotov Girl (Jodie Comer), a sunglass wearing, gun slinging femme fatale. It is love at first sight, slow-mo, cheesy track and all. Becoming his catalyst for change, Guy, played by none other than Ryan Reynolds, decides he’s tired of his coffee, cream and two sugars and his nine-to-five along with it. Tagging along with Molotov Girl, he ditches the blue-collar shirt and decides to turn hero of Free City, except his escapades with Molotov Girl lead him to discover that he might not be who he thinks he is.
The premise is an interesting one, touching on the themes of nihilism as Guy discovers that his world is nothing more than a video game and is confronted with feelings of helplessness. It’s no Matrix of course, but Free Guy adds a light-hearted touch to a heavier topic with its humour. Which brings me to the film’s biggest shortcoming. Now I get it. It’s a movie about a video game so of course it’s going to be chock-full of references all over the place and it does, with even a few cameos of famous gaming personalities of the likes of Tyler “Ninja” Blevins and Imane “Pokimane” Anys. But the real issue is that comedy falls into the realm of cliché. Unlike Night at the Museum, Free Guy takes what could’ve been a really funny movie that a wider audience can enjoy, and waters it down with all the crude vulgarity that you’d expect in a lobby of Fornite.
What the film does right best however are its characters. From the goofy, happy-go-lucky Guy, contrasted with the cool and calculated attitude of Molotov girl. The back and forth banter between the two, makes for some great on-screen chemistry.
Later on in the film, we are introduced to the self-obsessed video game Tycoon by the name of Antwan (Taika Waititi). Antwan brings in all the traits of a selfish corporate shark, that coupled with his over-the-top hip-hop swagger he’s insufferable incarnate and that’s precisely what makes him such a great character.
But hands down my personal favourite is Free City’s very own barista (played by Britne Oldford). My favourite scene is at the beginning where she is shocked at Guy’s order of a cappuccino instead of his usual coffee, to which she notably unsettled and punishes him with a deadly glare. It’s an excellent touch that brought life into what could’ve been a bland character.
Overall, despite its bigger flaws and eye-roll moments, Free Guy has its high moments and it’s worth a watch for Ryan Reynolds’ performance if anything. Though our suggestion would be to leave the thinking cap at home.