Ryan Reynolds is surprisingly annoying in Free Guy, a mundane movie made for video-game players that will leave non-gamers feeling left out.
While I am not a gamer, I have a small amount of knowledge about the video-game world. I have a PlayStation 4 I haven’t plugged in for three-plus years. The last game I played was some Star Wars thing that kept my interest for about two sessions before I decided to use my time wisely and re-watch Breaking Bad from start to finish. I do know enough to say that the plot and visuals of Free Guy seem to rip off Grand Theft Auto and Crazy Taxi. Yes, I just dated myself by referencing Crazy Taxi. Again, not a gamer.
Reynolds does his normally likable super-happy shtick as Guy, a background character in a popular video game that includes car chases, bank robberies and deaths by train. Guy wants a girlfriend, and when he sees Millie (Jodie Comer), the superhero, he falls in love—and it “awakens” something within. He swipes some superhero sunglasses and starts seeing all of the fun ways to get strength and make money. He’s on his way to being a real player.
As for the “real world” characters, Millie is guided by the real-life Millie, a programmer who plays the game in an attempt to prove its core processing was stolen from her and Keys (Joe Keery), an employee of the game’s maker, a company led by the wisecracking Antwan (a surprisingly unfunny Taika Waititi).
Director Shawn Levy directs with a flat approach to comedy and action, reminiscent of crap like the Night at the Museum movies … which makes sense, because he’s the director of the Night at the Museum movies. The attempts at humor lack wit, and the action sequences feel drawn out and repetitive; there’s a whole lot of Ryan Reynolds jumping around and throwing punches with no real sense of purpose.
The film’s runtime is almost two hours, but it feels twice that long, with a screenplay that seems conflicted about what exactly it is trying to do. The real-life Millie starts to fall in love with game-character Guy, and rather than play this for outlandish laughs, Levy and crew take the matter seriously—and it feels kind of creepy, diminishing the Millie character’s credibility. Again, this kind of goofy love-story angle could come off just fine in the hands of a competent director, but, as we mentioned, Levy is the director of the Night at the Museum movies. (OK, I admit I sort of liked the third Night at the Museum movie, just a little, after hating the first two, so I am officially extending one-third of an apology to Mr. Levy.)
The film contains a long line of cameos, including one by Channing Tatum. There are plenty of voice cameos I will not give away, and lots of cameos by gaming-culture celebrities. I figured out they were streamer celebrities because a large swath of the audience cheered when they popped up doing gamer commentary. To repeat: This movie is more likely to be enjoyed by gamers.
Comer is pretty good here, even if her character’s arc goes in some ridiculously handled directions. Waititi just goes through the motions, seemingly improvising lines that just don’t land. Tatum, in his extended cameo, has the film’s best moments; he’s so good that I wished the whole movie was just about his guy. Reynolds gets a second role in the movie in a move that feels an awful lot like his doubling as Juggernaut in Deadpool 2.
As somebody who usually enjoys Reynolds, I was surprised by just how much I wanted him to shut up and go away in Free Guy. This movie was definitely not made for the likes of me, and if your house lacks a video-game console and a general appreciation for gaming culture, it’s probably not for you, either.
Free Guy is playing at theaters across the valley.