“Free Guy,” the new Ryan Reynolds action comedy now playing in theatres, has its philosophical moments but no one will confuse its search for the meaning of life with the explorations of Joseph Campbell or Socrates. This is pure pop philosophy that breathes the same air “The Truman Show” and “Edtv,” movies about men who yearn for more than life has offered them.
Reynolds is Guy, a bank teller in Free City, a video game metropolis where the main characters wear sunglasses, have devil-may-care attitudes, cool hair and treat laws as suggestions, not hard and fast rules. Everyone else, including Guy and his best friend Buddy (Lil Rel Howery), are NPC, non-player-characters, who exist simple to give the Sunglasses People someone to rob, beat down, or, in rare cases, flirt with.
They are set decoration in the grand video game of life. “People with sunglasses never talk to people like us,” Buddy says.
One day Guy’s orderly life is thrown a curve when he spots Molotov Girl (Jodie Comer), a gunslinging sunglasses person, who also happen to be the woman of his dreams. Consumed with feelings he has never had before; his behaviors change as he looks for love and meaning in his life. “Maybe I’ll get some sunglasses of my own,” he says.
IRL (In Real Life) Millie (also played by Comer) and Keys (Joe Keery) are former coding superstars whose idea for a videogame that would actually change and grow independently of its users was stolen by evil video game developer Antoine (Taika Waititi). Keys now works for Antoine, while Millie is obsessed with infiltrating the game as Molotov Girl to get evidence for her lawsuit against the obnoxious tech giant.
Soon the line between Guy’s algorithmic life and Millie’s quest blend as “Free Guy” asks, “Do you you have to be a spectator in your own life?”
You need a lot of hyphens to describe “Free Guy.” It’s a video game-rom com-satire-action-comedy that tackles, in a lighthearted way, questions that people had grappled with for thousands of years. “What is the meaning of life?” Guy asks. “What if nothing matters.” But don’t fret, this isn’t Camus. The nihilism that usually goes along with big questions about life is replaced with video game action and brewing romance.
Reynolds brings his trademarked way with a line to play man child Guy. He’s the definition of bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed, able to give Guy the naïve quality he would have as someone just coming to consciousness, driven by feelings he doesn’t understand, as it slowly dawns on him that he is free to make his own decisions.
Comer, best known for her Emmy Award winning work in “Killing Eve,” deftly hops between real life and Free City, creating two characters with a shared goal. She’s mostly present as a sounding board for Guy’s awakening, but Comer brings personality to both roles.
Ultimately “Free Guy” doesn’t teach us anything about life we couldn’t have learned from any number of episodes of “Oprah,” but the message that life doesn’t have to be something that just happens to us is delivered with a heaping helping of humor, heart and Reynold’s brand of irreverence.