IANS Review: ‘Free Guy’: Oscillates between action comedy and stealthy rom-com (IANS Rating: ***)

Film: Free Guy (Releasing in theatres)

Duration: 115 minutes.

Director: Shawn Levy

Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Jodie Comer, Joe Keery, Lil Rel Howery, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Taika Waititi, Aaron Reed, Britne Oldford and Anabel Graetz.

IANS Rating: ***While fantasy films require some suspension of disbelief, they are nevertheless required to operate logically within their conceit framework, and ‘Free Guy’ delivers on that count.

Conceptually, Director Shawn Levy’s ‘Free Guy’ is a virtual-reality saga that’s neither unique, nor intriguing. It portrays video games as a shared universe into which characters literally enter and inhabit, thus in its literal form, the story plays like a fantasy-fairytale. We have seen such sci-fic films earlier, including one nearer home — Shah Rukh Khan’s ‘Ra One’, which was released in 2011.

In the film, Free City is an online video game promoted by Antwan (Taika Waititi), the head developer of Soonami Games. Incidentally, the source code of this game was stolen from an unreleased game developed by Millie (Jodie Comer) and Keys (Joe Keery).

So, Keys takes up a job at Soonami and Millie spends her time within Free City manipulating her avatar Molotov Girl to find evidence to prove that she and Keys are the rightful owners of the code. This is the skeleton of the tale. The film’s screenplay concentrates on Guy (Ryan Reynolds), a flat character in Free City, who usually, in the video-game lingo, is called an NPC (non-player character). In literal terms, he is a background character who is not controlled by a player.

In Guy’s world, violence, crime and killing are just a part of the landscape. He works as a teller in a bank and, together with his pal, security guard Buddy (Lil Rel Howery), maintains the same routine every day. With a cheerful disposition they wait for the bank to get robbed by whoever is playing the game that day. It allows them a chance to chat even as violence occurs around them.

One day, Guy spots Molotov Girl (Jodie Comer) and is smitten by her. He follows her only to realise that she can be pretty intimidating. She is one of the ‘Sunglasses’ people, which mean she is actually controlled by a player. According to some unwritten rule in the game, non-player characters don’t wear sunglasses and they don’t speak or interact with those who do.

So, when Guy accidentally learns how to acquire the eyewear that allows him to interact with the players of Free City, he works hard and breaks all rules to impress Molotov Girl. How their paths converge, with Guy now an online sensation helping Millie in her endeavour, forms the crux of the narrative.

This energetic film is loaded with action and VFX sequences. With many thrilling sequences mounted with grandeur, it gives you the feel of a live video game.

‘Free Guy’ is an outright Ryan Reynolds film. Wide-eyed and poker faced, he is fun to watch. Judie Comer, as his love interest, is strikingly impressive. And Utkarsh Ambudkar, as Mouser the problem solver, Taika Waititi and Joe Keery, are all natural and charismatic.

Despite the story beats being thin, the tone wildly different and some of its action sequences visually absorbing, the film is largely entertaining, oscillating between an action comedy and a stealthy rom-com.

(Troy Ribeiro can be contact on troy.r@ians.in)