Free Guy movie review: Flashy but frivolous proof that Ryan Reynolds has stopped taking chances
Free Guy movie review: Ironically for a movie that seems to be critical of committee-driven creativity, Ryan Reynolds new film is dispassionate to a fault.
Director - Shawn Levy
Cast - Ryan Reynolds, Jodie Comer, Joe Keery, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Taika Waititi, Lil Rel Howery
Stamped with the sort of aggressive mediocrity that has come to define Shawn Levy’s glorified IP creation farm 21 Laps, Free Guy is a dispassionate science-fiction film that almost dupes you into thinking that it is clever. It really isn’t.
Although it could be, provided you’ve never seen a movie before, or if you’re just learning about Ryan Reynolds’ strategically-curated charm, or maybe if you’ve recently recovered from a serious illness and are happy to just be alive. But let’s be honest; none of this is very likely. Which brings us back to square one: Free Guy is rather forgettable.
Watch the Free Guy trailer here:
Done well, nothing is more fun than a big, dumb Hollywood movie. We had one just a few months ago; it was called The Tomorrow War, and starred another white movie star desperate for mass-affection. And while that film, like Free Guy, could seem heavily derivative on occasion, it borrowed mainly the tone and plot mechanics of 90s blockbusters. Free Guy, on the other hand, deals almost exclusively in superficial references.
But that’s what one can expect from Levy, who has spent the last few years overseeing Netflix’s Stranger Things, a derivative show if there ever was one. Free Guy in its opening scene comes across like the live-action remake of The Lego Movie, and gradually flicks elements from The Truman Show, The Matrix and even Ready Player One, which, in a classic example of Hollywood self-plagiarism, was co-written by Zak Penn, one of the co-writers of this film.
Ryan Reynolds plays Guy, an NPC in an open-world video game who works at a bank and has been sentenced to living the same daily routine. A chance encounter with a mysterious woman gives him gives him an epiphany, and inspires Guy to become the hero of his own life story. High on free will, he befriends the mysterious woman and offers to help her in her quest to find proof against the game’s evil developer, Antwan, played by Taika Waititi.
Two things happen to Guy in quick succession. He learns that he has agency, and also realises that he is a mere construct leading a meaningless life that has been predetermined for him. This information, gained in such a short span of time, should’ve ideally broken his brain. But instead, Guy has a minor meltdown after which he decides to proceed with his original plan anyway.
Why is he so determined to help the mysterious woman, you might ask? It’s because he has fallen in love with her, obviously. Think of it like the reverse of the movie Her, but just as morally shady. And although their relationship develops, the plot doesn’t.
It’s like Free Guy is stitched together with celebrity cameos and sight gags more than an actual story. Because Guy is such a blank slate of a person — he’s literally a program — it’s difficult to feel emotionally invested in his journey. The more interesting story takes place IRL, where a couple of game developers attempt to mount a legal case against Antwan, who they believe stole their code for his massively successful video game.
It goes to show how even thinly written characters in the real world are more relatable than someone who is carefully constructed to appeal to a four-quadrant demographic. Which, ironically, could be a description for Reynolds as well. Ever since Deadpool hit, the actor has fully surrendered himself, it seems, to publicity and marketing teams that feed his personality with data points. There are no rough edges to Ryan Reynolds, just as there are no flaws to Dwayne Johnson. And that is why, in my admittedly unpopular opinion, neither is a movie star.
Nothing is more magical than watching vulnerability on screen, especially in movies where you least expect it. That is why the shower scene in Casino Royale remains such a classic. The craft in Free Guy is above reproach, but with budgets as high as this, it’s virtually impossible to screw up on a technical level. So when the script starts to feel as if it has been written not by humans but by algorithms, that’s when the cynicism begins to kick in. For all its perceived criticism of corporations and committee-driven creativity, Free Guy is, and let us not forget this, a wannabe franchise-starter starring a man who exclusively works within the studio system.
Also read: Pokemon Detective Pikachu movie review: Ryan Reynolds’ new film has the power to cure millennial depression
For its fans, Free Guy will be a nice-enough moviegoing experience, but at a time when the industry is literally on the verge of collapsing in on itself, we need to be more demanding as paying members of the audience. And Ryan Reynolds needs to take more chances.
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The author tweets @RohanNaahar