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FREE GUY - Review - We Are Movie Geeks

Review

FREE GUY – Review

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Jodie Comer as Molotov Girl and Ryan Reynolds as Guy in 20th Century Studios’ FREE GUY. Photo by Alan Markfield. © 2020 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

The Summer season is “fun and games” time at the local multiplex. Oh, but you’re thinking, “Isn’t it always”. Well, sure many still have big arcade areas around their entrances. Yes, but we’re talking about the content on the individual screens. And, after a year trying to entertain ourselves at home, the reopening (hopefully) studio flicks are reflecting much of that “home content”. As usual (in the “fun” category) we’re seeing the comic book-based blockbusters with recent entries THE SUICIDE SQUAD and BLACK WIDOW from several weeks ago (but still on the entertainment page). and a big flick was actually based on a toy, as the action figure SNAKE EYES emerged from the decades-long GI Joe toy franchise. As for the games, we’ve not seen many based on the board ones like CLUE (hurrah) or BATTLESHIP (shudder), although there’s been a “reboot” on the iconic video game MORTAL KOMBAT. This weekend’s new film is certainly inspired by that world, though it goes beyond the action/battle genre to encompass broad slapstick comedy, fantasy, and (really) romantic comedy. And it’s all part of the odyssey of an ordinary FREE GUY..

The title Guy (Ryan Reynolds), often referred to as “Blue Shirt Guy”, is an ordinary fellow living a routine life as a resident of “Free City”. Every morning he wakes up at the same exact time, eats the same breakfast, grabs the same “chain coffee store” pick-me-up, as he dodges all matter of street mayhem (shoot-outs, car-chasers, copter crashes) on the way to his bank teller job. Luckily he has a work BFF, aptly nicknamed Buddy (Lil Rel Howery). who’s an ineffectual security guard. During the daily armed hold-up, the two make weekend plans. But then something, no someone, breaks Guy’s routine, He is perplexed by a mysterious and beautiful woman, who is later called “Molotov Girl” (Jodie Comer). She tells Guy that a pair of sunglasses worn by the criminals will literally open his eyes. Wearing a pair, Guy sees floating signs and icons, along with messengers and secret pathways. Yes, it’s all part of a subscriber-driven online “first-person” video game called, of course, “Free City”, and in the “non-virtual” world, MG is controlled by disgruntled game-designer Millie (Comer too) who wants to wreck the company, Soonami, who stole her work. A big part of her plan involves making Guy, who is known as an NPC (Non-Player Character) more active and a force for good. At the big tech company that owns FC, two of the techs, “Mouser” (Utkarsh Ambudkar) and “Keys” (Joe Kerry), who was Millie’s old design partner and pal, try to go into FC and stop Guy. They fail as Guy soon begins a relationship, a romantic one, with MG/Millie. All this havoc is impacting sales of the upcoming “upgrade of FC, so Soonami’s founder/CEO, the arrogant Antoine (Taiki Waitiki) instructs his staff to “scrub and reboot” FC before the “launch” in 48 or so hours. Can Millie find a way to thwart him, as she aids Guy in the fight to save his world, and himself?

Although he’s been keeping quite busy before the cameras, this is a side of Reynolds we’ve rarely gotten to see. Much of his recent work has been as the manic, often surly, motor-mouthed wiseguy delivering under-his-breath “burns” amidst the surrounding carnage, seen just a few weeks ago in THE HITMAN’S WIFE’S BODYGUARD, and as the star of the wildly popular DEADPOOL franchise (“the merc with the mouth”). But as Guy we get to see him as wide-eyed optimist, gleeful spewing positive greetings (“Don’t have a good day…have a great day!!”) even as others roll their eyes. He’s truly endearing in his over-the-top enthusiasm, and, dare I say, kinds’…sweet. His sincere charms make his Guy a true, well, “dream-guy”. MG and Millie barely stand a chance. Comer, mainly known for the cult TV hit “Killing Eve” achieves film stardom. showing us her versatility with her sexy swagger as MG (something of a mix of Lara Croft and GI Joe’s Duchess) and her avenging geek angel Millie, whose world is “rocked’ by Guy. She’s also got great chemistry with Keery, also a cult TV vet on “Stranger Things”, who is given a “wake call” from her that adjusts his value system and rekindles a spark with his tech partner and pal. Speaking of pals, Howery is a hoot as Buddy, a softer riff on his previous “sidekick” role in GET OUT, who wants to support Guy, but can’t make himself go against his “programming” ( a scene of him “wavering” over joining Guy is full of pathos). And in the villain role, the Oscar-winning Waititi is a bombastic goofball as he struts about his skyscraper/castle, issuing threats while trying to look “too cool” for this business “jazz”. Even as he executes several terrific bits of slapstick (his attempt to leap upright from a prone position is priceless), he’s still a big obstacle for the heroes in and outside the game.

Director Shawn Levy, following up on his hit NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM trilogy, proves again that he’s a master of mixing witty comedy with state-of-the-art CGI effects. His Free City is a magical marvel as it mocks gaming cliches and big noisy action blockbusters. Everything there, at least during the day, is bright, crisp, and shiny while the world of Millie and her cohorts can be grimy and messy, especially morally. Happily, Levy doesn’t neglect the humanity of this modern fable, thanks in large part to the clever, cutting screenplay from Matt Lieberman and Zak Penn. They’ve blended the zippy fun of the gaming world we’ve previously seen in READY PLAYER ONE (which Penn worked on), the WRECK-IT-RALPH series, even the TRON flicks, with the moral questing of DEMON SEED (a tiny bit), A-I ARTIFICAL INTELLIGENCE and especially HER to create a high-tech “rom-com”. Yes, as with most modern comedies, there’s a bit of a “lull” after about an hour, and some virtual gags get overused (another collapsing bridge), but the finale is a big bouncy pop culture celebration, with iconic imagery and a treasure trove of unexpected cameos (I’m not a-spoilin’). And a reminder to back away from the “screen” and engage in the world is always a needed lesson. But that’s after enjoying the big screen (the visuals are so rich that a theater viewing is needed if possible) adventures of a truly FREE GUY. Game on!

3 Out of 4

FREE GUY opens in theatres everywhere on 8/13/2021

Jim Batts was a contestant on the movie edition of TV's "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" in 2009 and has been a member of the St. Louis Film Critics organization since 2013.

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