Free Guy (2021) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): Enjoyable but derivative

“Free Guy” is an enjoyable but derivative product reminiscent of too many other similar films out there. Its story premise will surely take you back to a number of movies associated with video games, but it does not try to go further than the numerous influences from these senior films ranging from “Tron” (1982) to “Ready Player One” (2018), and I was not surprised or impressed much despite some entertaining moments in the film.

At the beginning, the movie sets up its artificial main background through the cheery viewpoint of its nice ordinary hero. For Guy (Ryan Reynolds), everyday feels pretty much same as he wakes up and then goes to his mundane workplace, but he has no problem with that at all, and the same thing can be said about everyone else in the city including his best friend Buddy (Lil Rel Howery). No matter how frequently their city is smashed by certain figures everyday, they are not so shocked at all while following their respective routines as usual, and the movie generates some laughs from this absurd comic setting.

As shown from the trailer of the movie, Guy and his fellow citizens are actually the non-player characters (NPC) in a very popular online video game, and we soon see what has been going on in the real world outside the game. Thanks to its growing popularity around the world, Antwan (Taika Waititi), who is the owner of the company behind the game, has earned lots of profit, but the game was actually based on what he stole from two young aspiring computer program developers Millie (Jodie Comer) and Walter (Joe Keery) several years ago. While Walter chose to work under Antwan, Millie has tried to sue Antwan for his intellectual theft, and, as “Molotov Girl”, she has been searching around here and there inside the game for finding a certain evidence to prove that Antwan did steal what she and Walter created via their artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms.

When Guy happens to notice Molotov Girl on one day, she looks like a dream girl he has yearned for, and that leads to a big change in his daily life. After a series of decisions including the one involved with another attacker at his workplace, he finds himself beholding a hidden reality in a way which will remind you of those memorable moments in John Carpenter’s “They Live” (1988), and, as adjusting himself more to this new reality, he is alternatively awed and delighted by what he is capable of. Once he understands what he needs to do for approaching to the much higher gamer level of Molotov Girl, he goes all the way without any inhibition, and his exponential rise in the game soon comes to draw the attention of millions of online users around the world.

After Guy saves her game avatar from her latest peril, Millie finds herself attracted to his sweet and earnest sides while having no idea on his true identity, and we accordingly get an amusing romantic scene where they come to have a little sweet time together. Even when she belatedly comes to learn that Guy is actually the outcome of the digital evolution of what she and Walter created, Millie still cares a lot about Guy, and she becomes determined to save him and his world when her evil opponent attempts to cover up his intellectual theft by any means necessary.

During its last act, the movie throws lots of actions into the screen as expected, and that is the point where it becomes less entertaining than before. You may be tickled by a heap of cultural references including the one associated with the brief appearance by a certain recognizable actor, but the climax part of the film still feels overlong and predictable on the whole, and its handling of Guy and Millie’s emotional matter is rote and contrived while not giving us much surprise in the end.

At least, the movie is not boring thanks to the good comic chemistry between its two lead performers. Even before “Deadpool” (2016) and its 2018 sequel, Ryan Reynolds showed his considerable comic side in Marjane Satrapi’s morbid comedy film “The Voices” (2014), and he deftly handles several uproarious moments in the film while also giving a bit of gravitas to his likable character. As his counterpart, Jodie Comer, who has been mainly known for her Emmy-winning turn in British TV drama series “Killing Eve”, ably complements Reynolds whenever they share the screen together, and her performance surely brings some necessary spirit to the movie like Reynolds’.

In case of the supporting cast members in the film, they are mostly stuck in thankless functional roles. While Joe Keery and Utkarsh Ambudkar are wasted due to their flat supporting characters, Taika Waititi chews his every moment a little too much as the main villain of the story, and Lil Rel Howery, a gifted comedy actor of whom I have grown fond as watching his several small but notable supporting turns in “Get Out” (2017) and “Judas and the Black Messiah” (2021), steals the show as usual even though he is only required to play your average best friend character.

Directed by Shawn Levy, who is mainly known for “Night at the Museum” (2006) and its two following sequels, “Free Guy” is competent enough to engage us during its 115-minute running time, but it does not distinguish itself enough due to the glaring lack of its own style and personality. Although it turns out to be a bit better than I expected when I watched its trailer in last year (It is one of many Hollywood blockbuster movies whose theatrical release was postponed for more than one year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, by the way), it does not linger much on my mind, and my mind is already readying itself for anything more impressive or entertaining.

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