I'm pretty sure that I'm not alone when I say that I never expected to arrive at August in 2021 loudly proclaiming that Free Guy, a Ryan Reynolds starrer, is one of the most genuinely entertaining and feel-good films of the year.
But, well, there you have it. This Shawn Levy directed motion picture is, in fact, one of the year's most unexpected delights with an abundance of laughs, plenty of genuine heart, and practically the perfect vehicle for the limited range but never less than charismatic and engaging Ryan Reynolds.
In Free Guy, Reynolds is Guy, a blissfully unaware background character, or NPC (non-player character), in a popular video game called Free City. Despite the chaos that surrounds him, Guy is enthusiastically convinced he lives in paradise even though his main function each and every day is to be the bank teller who drops to the floor when a gang of robbers bursts in.
Reynolds, who also produced here, takes what so easily could have been a one-note role in a one-note film and turns Guy into someone you'll remember long after you've left the movie theatre. In some ways, Free Guy feels like a Happy Madison film done right and with an awareness that characters matter and story matters and maybe, just maybe, the film ought to actually say something meaningful.
Reynolds wisely underplays Guy, giving is a surprisingly full journey for the NPC who transitions from blissfully unaware to someone who has the opportunity to grow into something unexpected - being, well, human.
It's when Guy sees Molotov Girl (Jodie Comer, Killing Eve) that he begins to flirt with the idea of life outside his character. Molotov Girl is the actual avatar for Millie, a screwed over programmer and game developer who'd co-developed a kinder and gentler version of Free City with former business partner Keys (Joe Keery, Stranger Things). Keys, in turn, has been content to have relinquished the game and all its potential to Soonami CEO Antwan (Taika Waititi), a semi-talented but wealthy man-child who's turned Free City into an international obsession worth millions.
If you're getting a sense of the basic framework of Free Guy, you're probably correct.
It's not so much the originality of Free Guy that makes it all work. It is, in fact, the inspired direction of Shawn Levy, who was made for films like this one, and an ensemble cast that hits every note perfectly.
Levy masterfully creates this gaming world based off a satisfying, culturally aware script co-written by Matt Lieberman and Zak Penn. The game's avatars all wear shades, a virtual approach to a virtual world that feels constantly inspired and contains more than a few tips o' the hat for aware gamer types. There's a warm affection that envelopes the film and the worlds created. There's an abundance of laughs here, though they're never at the expense of the gamers themselves. Though, one has to say, Levy has quite the blast occasionally blasting the film around the world of Free City and the world in which Antwan, Keys, Millie, and others really live.
There are quite a few cameos here including some creative vocal work that you'll miss if you blink.
I laughed a lot during Free Guy, though I perhaps most appreciated the film's fierce devotion to the message that loving more and serving others is really what matters most of all. Is it schmaltzy? Oh heck yeah. What else would you expect from a Shawn Levy film starring Ryan Reynolds? The feel-good inspiration is paint-by-numbers, but that doesn't make it any less enjoyable.
Truthfully, I felt better after watching Free Guy than I've felt after a film in a long time.
Free Guy is rated PG-13 and justifiably so with some cartoonish violence and weaponry that may not play well with the younger ones. However, for teens up this should absolutely be a blast and Ryan Reynolds fans will rejoice in yet another role that perfectly utilizes the actor.
The entire ensemble is strong here including a remarkably compelling Jodie Comer, a breezy yet vulnerable Joe Keery, and the always delightful Taika Waititi. Lil Rel Howery is an absolute joy as Guy's best friend Buddy and Utkarsh Ambudkar rounds out the key players in fine fashion.
George Richmond's lensing is immersive and creative. Christophe Beck does his usual top-notch work with the film's original music. There's also a pretty awesome soundtrack here that is perfectly utilized. Ethan Tobman's production design is a tapestry of wonder that beautifully blends real life and fantasy.
Free Guy is easily one of 2021's funniest and most engaging films and a perfect vehicle that takes everything we love about Ryan Reynolds and brings it all to life on the big screen. Immensely fun and feel-good, Free Guy is one of 2021's most unexpected delights.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic