There is something peculiar about a film that cribs so heavily from other films but has the bravado to be about stolen IP. Such is the case with the amusing but cliche-ridden Ryan Reynolds vehicle Free Guy. While it combines the VR worlds of Ready Player One, the video game characters breaking free from Wreck-It Ralph, and just about everything from The Truman Show, Free Guy does have a few tricks up its sleeve. Are those clever bits enough to make this theatrical release-only film worth it?
Free City is a video game that is a crime-ridden open world very much like Grand Theft Auto. Resident Non-Playable Character (NPC) Guy is a bank employee content playing the same role over and over. That is the role assigned to these characters in video games. Guy gets his coffee, goes to work, and has a catchphrase, the very Truman-esque "Don't have a good day. Have a great day."
One day, while going through the routine of getting robbed at gunpoint, he shakes things up when he sees Molotov Girl (Jodie Comer). He falls for her, telling his best friend Buddy (Lil Rel Howery), a security guard, that he is going to talk to her. This should be impossible for him as an NPC, but it isn't. Guy is unique.
Free Guy from here sees this side character stuck in the background become a here. The trajectory of Free Guy becomes predictable from here but for the initial 40 or so minutes, the film has some clever takes on video game worlds. Director Shawn Levy is a competent visual director who packs the early half of the film with Easter eggs for video game fans and a few fun cameos.
Reynolds is doing his schtick here that we have seen countless times. The actors around him are what help elevate moments of the film. Jodie Comer as Mille aka Molotov Girl is compelling and charming here, making her big jump to the big screen. Howery is hilarious often stealing scenes from Reynolds.
The film has too many side stories. One involves Millie and her attempts to prove her code for another game was stolen by Antwan (Taika Waititi). The other is a love story with her former programming partner (Joe Keery). Then there is the plot line where all the NPCs realize they could be more. All of these storylines resolve the same way, with a speech summarizing the themes of each. This bogs down the final act, although Free Guy does hold a few surprises until the end.
Overall, Free Guy never takes its creativity very far. The film is too content to retread other storylines from better films. Here and there, the film has some genuinely creative ideas on how to play with the worlds that video games create. The film succeeds as dumb summer fun thanks to a charming and game cast. I can't help but wish more had been done here but overall the film will satisfy your summer blockbuster desires.