Free guy. PG, 115 minutes. 3 stars.
Guy isn't free, just programmed to look like it. When he gets ready for work each day in Free City, he chooses a powder blue shirt to wear. There's nothing else to choose from, all his shirts look the same, and he sticks to his usual routine, day in and day out.
Poor Guy (Canadian actor Ryan Reynolds who hit gold with the Marvel Deadpool franchise), is only an algorithm. All his choices are made for him. Ever had that same feeling as you type into Google, or social media? The tech giants know way too much about us.
Free Guy, directed by prolific director Shawn Levy (titles include the Night at the Museum franchise), and from a screenplay by Matt Lieberman and Zak Penn, is the latest addition to a growing list of B-movies that are part of an expanding gamer universe.
It looks like unassuming bank teller Guy has everything he needs until the day he lays eyes on his dream girl as she saunters past him on the street, in shades and leathers. She is Molotov Girl, played by Jodie Comer who shot to fame as the charismatic assassin in the TV series Killing Eve.
Guy knows she's the one, he just knows it. There's a spring to his step the next day when he orders coffee, making the mistake of exercising free choice by asking for something different, a cappuccino. When a tank suddenly appears in the street outside with its barrel trained straight at him, Guy quickly corrects his mistake, ordering the usual with cream and two sugars.
Guy is nothing but collateral, an expendable background character in a video game, an NPC or non-playable character, but he has just taken a dangerous step beyond his assigned role, ordering what he wants. Next thing, he's taken sunglasses off the man who routinely robs his bank, and taken to the streets. While wearing sunnies, Guy has become a free agent, an open world gamer, a playable character who can do what he wants.
As he begins his quest to track down Molotov Girl, Guy is getting the hang of things and has begun making a name for himself as Blue Shirt Guy. Although he's the product of programming code, BSG is becoming the first AI character ever created out of noughts and zeros to show free will.
Someone who grew, felt things and developed has emerged, the first confirmed artificially created life form. Out in the real world, his followers are growing fast.
You would think that a global following would please the publisher of Free City and an empire of other games, but for Antwan (Taika Waititi, hamming it up in this performance) the glitch that created Guy stands in the way of the Free City sequel and must be eliminated. The CEO wants nothing less than total control and he orders a reboot to relegate BSG back to the background character he once was, effectively eliminating him.
Besides, as Antwan perceives it, Guy with his good-guy routine is bad for the franchise business. The do-gooder can deflect and overcome the violence which he wants no part of, and he has fallen in love. Guy is assuming the role of hero in his own story.
Guy has after all been a plant, emerging from software developed by Millie (Comer), Molotov's real-world creator, and Keys (Joe Keery), her programming partner.
To escape his fate, Guy must get beyond the borders of Antwan's gamer empire. But first he has to duke it out with a super hero hulk who has strayed in from another movie franchise. Other movie references appear that are probably good for Disney business too.
Has it really been 20 years since the first Tomb Raider film, even longer since the first Street Fighter? The studios are sure to keep these B-movies coming, and now there are cinemas that have begun renting their screens to gamers in these revenue-starved times.
A film like Free Guy is a step into the sunshine, away from the Resident Evil, Silent Hill and Warcraft titles that compete for young gamers. It's fun, the writing is smart, the performances engaging, and the action cleverly choreographed, and it is a good addition, for once, to the list of video game movies, live action and animated, that have made it to the big screen.