Highly original ‘Free Guy,’ is not just good, but great

After a long-awaited release, “Free Guy” hits theaters Aug. 13 from actor-producer Ryan Reynolds and director Shawn Levy. The action-comedy is as unexpectedly meaningful as it is pure fun at the theatre, following Reynolds as a non-playing character in a video game who suddenly realizes there’s more to life than being in the background.

“Free City” is a smash hit interactive “Grand Theft Auto”-style video game supposedly created by Antwon Soon (Taika Waititi, his trademark hilarity on full display as a corporate boss). But there’s more to the story of the game, just as there’s more to Guy. 

The initial idea and code for a more human approach to “Free City” was created by Millie (Emmy winner Jodie Comer) and “Keys” (should-also-be-an-Emmy-winner Joe Keery), and “Free Guy” is just as much about their fight to get it back as it is about Guy’s journey from being a background character to something more.

Levy and screenwriters Matt Liberman and Zak Penn thankfully don’t feel the need to build a lengthy backstory about what happened with the coders, just as we don’t know exactly how Guy came to be – at first. They let the details unfold seamlessly over 115 minutes that are pure fun, even for non-gaming viewers. 

Maybe especially for them. In a year when many of us have been non-playing characters in a global tragedy and it feels like there’s an unstoppable bug in our game, Guy brought a sense of comfort: that we’ll get out of this loop one day, but we already have what we need in our programming. 

In the meantime, it doesn’t hurt to laugh. A lot, which “Free Guy” ensures.

Comer, Reynolds and especially Keery are superb, with funny back-up in the form of Utkarsh Ambudkar and Lil Rel Howery. This is a Shawn Levy movie after all, and when he writes the code, there’s always a signature sense of humor and heart written into the fast-paced zeroes and ones. Think the adventure of “Night at the Museum” and the camaraderie of “Stranger Things,” with the combined action and humor of “Date Night,” and maybe most unexpectedly, the emotion of “This Is Where I Leave You.” Or at least the top-notch acting.

In this case, Levy and a talented group of writers and creators made a colorful, highly original “Free Guy,” which was not just good, but great. And worth the wait.

Photos courtesy of 20th Century Studios

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