Shawn Levy’s Free Guy is a science fiction comedy that is more successful at the science fiction part than the comedy, when it should maybe be the other way around. Here is a great-looking film with some pretty good ideas that didn’t fully hold me in its grip, but didn’t bore me either. Truth of the matter is, as creative as it might seem, it would’ve been a triumph if it were funnier, which in the end makes it somewhat of a disappointment because Ryan Reynolds is the headliner.
That’s not to say that Reynolds only cranks out hits. For example, even I missed out on The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard, but its predecessor did nothing for me. But think about his two Deadpool movies and what wonders he worked with those… perhaps after seeing those, the bar is raised a little high. If we’re being honest though, I was a fan before that though, at least going back to 2005’s Just Friends (a movie that I certainly enjoy more than most people), and the comedic energy in Free Guy doesn’t match that movie, at least, let alone Deadpool. But it does look fabulous.
Reynolds, aging like the finest wine, does try his damndest though as Guy, a persona non grata (I believe that is the term) in a videogame called Free City, where people hop online and wreak havoc. Helicopters explode right outside of his apartment every morning, and he barely bats an eye. He wakes up every morning listening to Mariah Carey, gets his coffee, heads to work at the bank, talks to his buddy… uh, Buddy (Lil Rel Howery), partakes in a bank robbery (you know, business as usual), and so on. Passing by a woman named Millie (Jodie Comer) on the street though, suddenly everything starts to change.
Guy’s regular routine in life suddenly feels pretty… ordinary. To the point where even Guy, who is essentially without personality, feels that life is getting boring. Reynolds is pretty perfect for this sort of material, in that he is good at discovering newfound interests. Anyways, the other bots in this game start to notice that Guy is acting off, and soon Guy starts embracing it, joining Millie in her escapades. Yet it is all sort of turned upside down after Guy tries on the sunglasses of one of the bankrobbers, essentially unlocking the experience that the players have been experiencing. Outside of the game though, Millie is trying to destroy the reputation of Antwan (Taika Waititi), the current owner of the company that distributed her game, for stealing credit for the game that her and a former lover (Joe Keery) created together.
So basically, picture The Truman Show mixed with (and forgive me if you haven’t seen this) 2019’s Serenity, with a splash of Westworld, and you have Free Guy. Oh, I guess Wreck–it Ralph, too. The movie is light, which is impressive because it’s honestly pretty impressive visually. This was scheduled for a release within the past year, but it’s totally understandable why Disney decided to hold off on it. Within minutes, you’ll see the expense. Levy, of the Night at the Museum trilogy and Real Steel, is someone who can handle his expenses, and well. There is enough visual creativity to keep the movie afloat, and sometimes the movie can be pretty creative in the story department, too.
The issue here though lies in the comedy. So, it’s okay for a high-concept comedy to not be totally hilarious. The issue with Free Guy though is that scenes go by and it occurred to me that the material wasn’t as funny as it needed to be. Which would be okay if it were the most original movie on the planet, or if it was played as a straight science fiction movie with comic relief. Yet this is essentially being billed as a Ryan Reynolds comedy, and after the wonders he worked with the Deadpool movies, you can’t knock me for expecting more.
The visual effects and production design of Free Guy are so damned impressive that, well, knocking Free Guy doesn’t seem to be fair. This isn’t a bad film by any means, but considering the comedic talent, you’d expect better. Only when Waititi is onscreen does the film achieve genuine laughs, and not all of those work either (but even the lesser ones worked better than a cameo from Channing Tatum, which seemed good on paper but… yeah). This isn’t a movie I fully enjoyed, and yet I’d look forward to a sequel, in that the filmmakers would fully exploit the material they have and take the fullest advantage of what they can in the humor department.