Free Guy (2021) — Game NPC levels up into our hearts

“Friendly gesture!”

Justin’s rating: Kids, this is why you always save your games

Justin’s review: At this point in movie history, the whole concept of people diving into video games and finding that the computer inhabitants have a life of their own isn’t exactly new. I mean, Tron. Gamer. Wreck It Ralph. Captain N the flippin’ Game Master. I kind of got the feeling that Free Guy thinks that it’s the first movie to cover this territory, but really, it’s pretty old hat by now.

Not to say that this can’t be an entertaining premise, mind you. Especially if you get Ryan Reynolds on board to bring his charming wisecracks to the scene.

Reynolds plays Guy, a blue shirt-wearing NPC who happens to exist inside an online game called Free City. Subtle, this movie is not. Guy lives his same stale routine day in and day out — yes, much like LEGO Movie’s Emmet — while slightly envying the “Sunglasses People” who run about the city stealing cars, blowing stuff up, and repeatedly robbing the bank at which Guy works.

One day, Guy grows curious enough to grab a pair of sunglasses for himself and start on a journey to become (unwittingly) a player himself. He learns that there’s an overlay of weapons and power-ups all over the city, not to mention missions. But thanks to his infatuation with a player named Millie (Jodie Comer), Guy attempts to “level up” by helping his fellow NPCs and generally making life in Free City more tolerable.

As Guy becomes a viral sensation in the real world as “Blue Shirt Guy” — the movie shoves streamer culture in your face with all of the nuance of a desperate movie exec who just learned what a streamer was last week — he threatens to upset the status quo of the game world. This isn’t really received well by Antwan, a bizarre evil developer, who’s trying to hide the fact that he stole code to make Free City and is just days away from pulling the plug on the first game to launch the second.

So the movie splits between the events happening in the game world (mainly Guy becoming more self-aware and capable) and the real world (the good game devs trying to reclaim their code). Guy and Millie enjoy a brief romance, at least until Millie finds out that she just fell in love with video game code. That’s got to be a talking point for your next therapy session.

I’d heard really good things about Free Guy, but I have to report that this movie is decidedly average. Painfully average. The trailers made me believe that this was a laugh-a-minute snarkfest with a wide-eyed Reynolds, but there’s about seven good jokes scattered across the entire film. The video game setting is mostly chaotic — it’s clearly modeled after Grand Theft Auto, which the movie exec learned about two weeks ago — without much in the way of structure or sense. And it certainly didn’t fit the bill as family fare due to far more swearing than I expected.

It’s not terrible, but Free Guy didn’t really say or do anything to get a high score in my book.

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