Hollywood cliche number 216: Video Gamers are all nerds who live at home with their mum


Directed by: Shawn Levy

Written by: Matt Lieberman (screenplay by) Zak Penn (screenplay by)

Featuring: Ryan Reynolds, Jodie Comer, Taika Waititi, Lil Rel Howery, Joe Keery, Utkarsh Ambudkar

Guy is a bank teller in the brutally violent city, Free City, what he is starting to realise is he is an NPC [no player character] in a video game. As his self-awareness builds into a journey of discovery, he teams up with Molotov Girl who is storming through Free City and the open-world around it trying to find clues to the origin of the game. Molotov Girl in the real-world is Millie a game developer who along with her friend Walter ‘Keys’ McKee had the source code for a game they developed ripped off and used in Free City. Walter works for the company that ripped them off, Soonami Games, but Millie is determined to prove their idea and hard work was stolen. What she did not bank on was Guy and the other game characters slowly becoming self-aware and confusing matters even more.

Free Guy is not original, take a few steps back and you are looking at a mangled version of Wreck-It-Ralph, which was funnier and more entertaining, and with a loose thread you can trace back to Blade Runner, the awful I Robot, A.I. and even Lars and the Real Girl, all of which go back further to the sculpture and statue coming to life and indeed love, Pygmalion. Okay it is tenuous but boil the meat off the bones and you have the story of something inanimate, created by the protagonist, coming to life and learning to live, love, hate and all points in between. Is the ‘statue’ really alive, is Free Guy really alive? That is the story, the trick is what you do with that story, how you package it and give it your own twists.

The initial setup with Ryan Reynolds and his friend – the problems that throws up with the storyline are brushed over so I will brush over too – Buddy, played with charming likeableness by Lil Rel Howery, sets the story up and sets it up well. It is amusing and shows the life of the NPCs to some effect. The real problems start when the ‘player’ of Molotov Girl, played by the latest British star to catch the evil eye of Hollywood, Jodie Cromer, sashays her way onto the screen. Guy is immediately affected by her she is the one.

Perhaps it was just me but there was no chemistry between Cromer and Reynolds at all on the screen, nothing. I just could not see his bland character falling for her even blander character, they were strictly ‘pass by in the street characters’ with ne’er a glance back. But we are being set up for an unlikely computer character love match with a ‘real person’ – interesting perhaps but how do you get yourself out of this?

The answer is double up with another chemistry-free love-interest, so it is a love triangle between three people none of which you believe even looked like they would be friends, yup, it is Walter ‘Keys’ McKee played by Joe Keery, who unfortunately was not believable as love-interest or a game genius, but he tried hard.

The film runs with two stories side by side in-game and real-world, neither is sufficiently interesting or believable enough to keep your attention. True there are some fun moments, some truly impressive screen effects but these alone do not make a great, or even good, film.

The biggest problem for me is the casting. All the main cast are reasonable actors with decent work behind them but in this film it did not work. Cromer and Keery come straight off the back of hugely popular television shows but for crying out loud that is not a reason to cast someone, well it is if you want to make money and get bums on seats, but they must fit together and in this film they do not. Reynolds, Cromer and Keery have no chemistry between them – they are inert. The star, Ryan Reynolds, like a lot of ‘stars’ in Hollywood seems to get by playing the same character in every movie, in this one he is the harmless version, in Deadpool, he is the harmful version, but it is the same character. Deadpool is much a better version, so perhaps a violent, nasty, foul-mouthed Ryan Reynolds is better.

For a film where one of the characters is a computer-generated, bland, one-dimensional NPC it takes some skill to make the most seemingly computer-generated, bland, one-dimensional character a human being in the real world. Taika Waititi chews the scenery with obvious delight, clearly thinks everyone is having as much fun as he is, and straight from the Steven Segal school of acting his motivation is ‘evil’. That is it, his character, Antwan, the source-code stealing, owner of Soonami is evil, nothing else just mean and evil. Fair enough.

Despite the effects, the video game tropes and nods, after a while your attention starts to wander, only the introduction of the monstrous 6-foot 7-inch Aaron W Reed as a sort of ‘super-Free-Guy’ brings you attention back online, here there is some funny moments.

The story peters out to a huge lame ending that makes no sense, even within this film’s world, and everything is neatly tied up in a bow. People generally liked this film, but I cannot understand why they have not seen this all before, but better, more interesting and entertaining. It was so boilerplate I could see the rivets.

The acting ranged from quite poor, Waititi, conventional Utkarsh Ambudkar as Keys’ boss(?) who at least has a sort of arc, to bland, Comer and Keery. The effects are good and impressive but the storyline, screenplay is a bit…well crap. I am not big gamer, but I do play games, and a question I kept asking was what the heck game was Free City? I think the people involved in making the film think that open-world means starting a game and doing whatever you want to for hours on end, and whilst in these games you can do that, there is usually a mission, a purpose, and in video gaming you get killed by NPCs and tricky situations. It appeared nobody in Free City did, they just logged on, killed and destroyed things, collected winnables and did this for hours on end. This game would not last. The less said about Keys and Millie’s ‘game’ the better.

Free Guy used the same vision of video gamers that every TV show and film uses, all useless nerds that live with their parents, it is lazy and clearly not true, but heck it is easy and everyone will think it is funny. As a film it does not understand the media it is supposedly celebrating and for an industry that is fun, bring enjoyment to a lot of people and generates money and work, it made video game seem dull and derivative.

That is some achievement.

Watch any other inanimate creation imbued with life film, in fact I recommend the other Ryan, Ryan Gosling in Lars and the Real Girl, which is a similar story and much more entertaining, and it will make you think. Free Guy is designed to do the opposite.

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