It has been more than a decade since I was able to devote longer than an hour or two a week to playing video games. Gamer, the 2009 Gerard Butler vehicle that took a decidedly cynical view of first-person shooters and the players who play them, was where I left off with where this stuff sat in broader culture. Free Guy speaks in a language developed over that decade — massive, multiplayer, free-play shooters that operate at the zenith of popular culture, buoyed by young people who believe they can make them or, barring that, make a living by playing and talking about them. It’s a whole new world, and this film embraces all of it.
And I mean all of it. It’s a grab-bag action film with as many references as can be packed into just over 90-minute run-time, constant needle-drops and Ryan Reynolds playing a much sweeter and more palatable version of his usual schtick.
Guy (Reynolds) is a bank teller living a comfortable, mundane life, one that seems to be moving on a singular track from Point A to B each day with little deviation. No matter. He loves it. Until he sees Molotov Girl (Jodie Comer) and starts to feel off-center in his world. Soon, he learns the truth: he’s a Non-Playable Character in a massive multiplayer online game, Free City — digital support staff, basically, to the real players engaging in the fictional reality. This awakening soon starts to cause problems. Antwan (Taika Waititi), the shady developer of the game who hopes to shut down Free City in favor of a sequel nobody is asking for, stole his best ideas from others (like most CEOs). Molotov Girl’s real name is Millie, who wrote the base code alone with Keys (Joe Keery), who is trapped in a dead-end position under Antwan.
The premise opens up a lot of clever action sequences with an unlimited sandbox. It becomes exhausting after a while, though, despite the best efforts by Reynolds and company to give the whole thing some emotional weight. He’s good, and the movie tries to convey a message about freewill, yadda yadda, but … it’s just tiresome, like playing the same game longer than an hour or two. Clearly, I lack the attention span of most gamers and am probably the wrong audience for this release.
Special features include deleted scenes and mini-documentaries, including one about Waititi’s performance as Antwan, where the famous director explains why he decided to return to acting for the film.