Game boy

Ryan Reynolds battles gunfire with a grin in comedy with a few design flaws


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He’s a young, handsome, happy and single guy in the big city. Life should be a dream… if it weren’t for all the bad guys randomly beating and killing him all the time.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/08/2021 (594 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

He’s a young, handsome, happy and single guy in the big city. Life should be a dream… if it weren’t for all the bad guys randomly beating and killing him all the time.

Guy (Ryan Reynolds) is not aware his hometown is actually an open-world video game. He is also not aware that he is an NPC, a non-playable character whose purpose in life is to serve as digital cannon fodder for an ultraviolent shooter game called Free City.

So he goes through life with a very Ryan Reynolds-y chipper attitude, working as a bank teller and taking joy where he may, in his morning cup of coffee (cream and two sugars) or in his encounters with his best friend Buddy (Lil Rel Howery), a security guard at the bank.

But something bothers Guy. He finds himself attracted to a badass, gun-toting woman called Molotovgirl (Jodie Comer) who is identifiably not an NPC because she wears the glasses of a real-person player, or as Guy and Buddy call them, “the glasses people.”

Molotovgirl is, in fact, game designer Millie, and she is on a secret mission, scouring Free City to find proof that the game’s cutting-edge software was stolen by pompous game magnate Antoine (Taika Waititi).

Working with her former designer partner Keys (Joe Keery, Stranger Things) on the inside of the corporation, she edges closer to the truth, only to find an ally in Guy, who is carrying a torch for Molotovgirl as he shakes up the gaming world. (A background player becoming active causes worldwide consternation in the movie’s gaming universe, before he is ultimately celebrated by fans as a refreshingly benign wild card in the brutal gameplay.)

Directed by Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum) and scripted by Matt Lieberman and Zak Penn, Free Guy cleverly exploits the appeal of the video game universe — fast action, exotic characters, constant mayhem — while satirizing the non-stop numbing violence. Indeed, the film comes deliciously close to a takedown of Hollywood’s own predilection for marketing ultra-violence to a bloodthirsty public, without quite hitting that particular target.

The film’s not-so-secret weapon is, of course, Reynolds, an actor for whom the term “charm offensive” could have been invented. Reynolds here offers up the flipside of the callous killer he plays in Deadpool, resolving to be a “good guy” in a game universe intended to celebrate mindless violence.

Comer, ironically best known as a remorseless assassin in the series Killing Eve, actually feels miscast here, at least as game designer Millie. As practised as she may be as Molotovgirl, shooting two pistols while astride a motorcycle, Comer doesn’t quite sell Millie as a wholesome, romantic naif.

Also miscast is Waititi as the antagonist Antoine. Waititi could play a vampire as a gentle doofus in What We Do In the Shadows, but his take on a narcissistic tech lord is more grating than is advisable.

Reynolds holds it all together for as long as he can. (The movie is about 15 minutes too long.) Deadpool notwithstanding, Reynolds is very good at playing the wholesome naif. Director Levy, a fellow Canadian, suggested the Vancouver-born Reynolds get in touch with his most Canadian side to play Guy, so the film may be especially gratifying for Canucks who look upon American culture in much the same way as Guy looks at the armed mayhem of Free City, with a certain bemused resignation.

Twitter: @FreepKing

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Randall King

Randall King

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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