Ryan Reynolds’ “Free Guy” a high-concept, surface-level action-comedy

2.5 stars. Rated PG-13. 1 hour, 55 minutes

The concept for “Free Guy” feels like a classic elevator pitch: Guy (the main character’s actual name) is a workaday Joe who feels something is missing from his life. When a charismatic, would-be love interest enters his hermetic sphere, he falls hard for her, setting off a chain of events that forever change his world.

Alan Markfield. 2020 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

From left: Taika Waititi as Antwan, Utkarsh Ambudkar as Mouser and Joe Keery as Keys in “Free Guy.”

Sound familiar? It should. “Free Guy” swipes whole patches of theme, plot and character development from dozens of other titles but, to the credit of screenwriters Matt Lieberman and Zak Penn, rarely groans at the stitches. That instant familiarity works for and against the film, injecting it with the rabbit-hole exploration of “The Matrix,” the comedy-romance of “Groundhog Day” and the philosophical-primer beats of “The Good Place.”

Ryan Reynolds, who also produced the film, plays yet another version of his beloved Deadpool character here — snappy, oddly crude at times and always bouncing back from the latest punch. It’s a winning combo as set against the backdrop of Free City, the violent, hyper-realistic video game that’s inspired by open-world franchises such as Grand Theft Auto.

The problem is that Guy is an NPC, or non-playable character, programmed solely to provide background texture. As a bank teller, he’s doomed to repeat an endless loop of aggro avatars robbing his workplace while maniacally filling his co-workers with bullets.

The larger environment, in fact, is rife with rattling tanks, exploding space ships, martial arts fights, car crashes and other spectacles that feel more like wallpaper than exciting action. That’s entirely intentional, and one of the film’s most damning indictments of our numbness to depictions of violence.

Alan Markfield. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Jodie Comer as Molotov Girl and Ryan Reynolds as Guy in “Free Guy.”

Enter Jodie Comer as Molotov Girl, a doe-eyed, kick-butt player whose real-life equivalent (Millie) is plumbing the game’s code for proof that developer Soonami stole it from her and former coding-partner Keys (Joe Keery from “Stranger Things”).

In the real world, Keys is an underling at Soonami, despite his “MIT brilliance,” and is slowly realizing that guru Antwan (director and actor Taika Waititi) is up to no good just before Free City 2’s launch. As Reynolds’ Guy becomes self-aware — thanks to his burgeoning artificial intelligence and a pair of symbolic sunglasses — the real and digital worlds clash.

Magnetic actors are in no short supply here, but Utkarsh Ambudkar (as the company-line-towing Mouser) and Lil Rel Howery (as Guy’s friend/bank security guard Buddy) stand out. Soonami’s Antwan, however, feels like a cardboard version of a tech-bro, talking almost exclusively in awkward pop-culture references and wasting Waititi’s honed, deadpan sarcasm. Comer, however, has enough star power to carry the film and will likely get many more big-budget offers after this.


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Ryan Reynolds’ “Free Guy” a high-concept, surface-level action-comedy