REVIEW: ‘Free Guy’ entertains but has fleeting impact

Movies about video games or films where the reality has elements of video games can be hit or miss. Sometimes you can get a “Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World.” Other times you get a “Serenity” or “Pixels.”

Fortunately, “Free Guy” leans a bit more toward the former.

“Free Guy” takes place in two realms of existence, one digital and one real. In the latter, Jodie Comer plays Millie, a young woman who’s living on hard times after the video game developer Antwan (Taika Waititi) stole her idea. That idea for a game was created by her and her best friend Keys (Joe Keery), who now works for Antwan.

Meanwhile, Guy (Ryan Reynolds), is a non-playable character in the video game owned by Antwan. While Guy is mainly programmed to be a normal bank employee in a violent video game, one day he begins to evolve and becomes self aware of the world around him. With that new knowledge, he begins playing the game himself, getting the attention of Millie. Millie soon learns that Guy’s programming is the key to exposing Antwan.

Clocking in at under two hours, “Free Guy” is an amusing, breezy movie that takes a fun approach with its action and plays it loose when it comes to science fiction. The film glosses over what’s basically the creation of a form of artificial intelligence and instead keeps things fun and quirky with a quick pace.

Ultimately, the result is a really light film. While that certainly makes for a movie that has enough entertainment value for an enjoyable experience, it also means the movie isn’t as rich as it could’ve been either.

In the video game world, the movie lightly touches on the subject of toxic online personalities and the direction of modern video games in general, but most of the time these are used more for comedic effect. How these things actually impact people isn’t explored.

Meanwhile in the real world, the movie features a problematic boss, and work environment, yet this too is often portrayed in a more humorous light and doesn’t have a lot of depth. Instead, the film gives the real world portion of the story a rather sappy sub plot.

Courtesy 20th Century Studios.

It all feels a bit too clean and glossy. That’s not necessarily a bad thing for a movie, but “Free Guy” at times seems like it’s trying to be pointed with its humor and address actual issues but there’s a lack of will in the writing to have any real edge.

Like most stories involving artificial intelligence, there was a good deal of potential here, but it’s somewhat squandered among the mix of references and needle drops.

While these issues drag the film down a bit, it doesn’t result in the movie being bad. The action, for example, is creative, with the filmmakers taking full advantage of this being a digital world without limitations.

It also helped greatly to have a charming performance by Reynolds. The aloofness and curiosity in the Guy character really comes through thanks to Reynolds’ acting and his comedic style worked very well for the portrayal. He was a good fit.

Another strong performance was Comer, who sort of had two roles, her video game persona and her real world self. Comer makes both of them work, being a convincing bad ass in the video game and a woman with conviction and determination in the real world.

The same can’t be said for Waititi, who’s way too over the top in the villainous role. His dialogue in some scenes is downright bad and he’s just too absurd to be seen as any sort of serious threat.

“Free Guy” is an alright movie to kill a couple hours, because it does have enough to keep an audience engaged. However it really lacks staying power. 2.85 out of 5.


Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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