★★★★ - LONDON EVENING STANDARD
- Ryan Reynolds and Jodie Comer are pitch perfect in this riotous gaming caper -
Ryan Reynolds says this is the best movie he’s ever done, a statement that will give Deadpool fans a collective hernia but with which I agree. An action-comedy about a fictional video game, the whole thing scrambles Reynolds’ brand with a glee bordering on mania and makes sublime use of Killing Eve’s Jodie Comer, Joe Keery, Channing Tatum, Chris Evans and a certain iconic weapon. Though Free Guy didn’t start out as one of Disney’s properties, it is now. Anyone with a soft spot for self-aware Disney tentpoles should prepare to be tickled into a state of I-can’t-believe-they-just-did-that! awe.
Guy (Reynolds) is an NPC (non-playable character) in a Grand Theft Auto-like game. He’s a genial, law-abiding bank teller, merely a foil for the gun-toting, shades-wearing, babe-squeezing, stars of the show. One day, he has an awakening. With the help of two flesh-and-blood game inventors, Millie and Keys (Comer and Keery), Guy’s going to change his world and possibly ours.
The script (from Zak Penn and Matt Lieberman) riffs on a gazillion different classics, including The Lego Movie, Wreck It Ralph, The Truman Show, Elf and, most delightfully, The Purple Rose of Cairo (Guy is as earnest and innocent as Tom Baxter). It pays permanent homage to Tom Stoppard’s play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Groundhog Day is another touchstone, though since time loops have been done to death that’s the least satisfying piece of this jigsaw.
The film feels most original when exploring the highs and lows of gaming but you don’t need to be an expert to get the gags. The whole point about Guy is that he doesn’t know he’s in a video game. When sassy experts start talking about hacking and “skins”, he looks dazed and says, “I got like 5 per cent of that.” It’s heaven for ignoramuses in the audience; he’s our way in.
As for Millie, her avatar, “Molotov Girl”, looks like Atypical’s Casey as styled by Ronnie Kray, while at home with her headphones on she’s more crumpled. Millie’s stunning, of course, but not conventionally, which makes the role such a good fit for the chameleon-like Comer. When required to get vulnerable the 28-year-old actress smashes it. She’s made her first Hollywood movie and it’s the exact opposite of a sell-out.
Meanwhile, Keery shows there’s more to life than Stranger Things. With casual sweetness, he nails so many lines, especially the one about Millie having basically fallen in love with an algorithm who’s technically four years old.
The humour in Free Guy is knowing rather than nasty and, even at its most surreal, avoids coming across as indulgent. Waxing lyrical about bubble-gum ice-cream, Guy says “Compared to this, coffee tastes like liquid suffering!” I may never have a cup of liquid suffering again.
The film’s baddie is corporate hipster Antwan (Taika Waititi), who screws over Millie and Keys and almost gets away with it. Waitiki shines here, just as he did in The Suicide Squad. It’s telling that both blockbusters make so much room for the New Zealand comedian/all-round-genius.
This is the first Disney film in a long time to get a “theatrical exclusive”, which is only right and proper. It has to be seen with a big group of people, because it’s all about how we, as a community, need to come together.
Reynolds’ character thinks bad boys and wanton violence are a dead-end. He’s a hero who thinks everyone has the potential to be one. This is very much a group effort, but what a Guy.
- LONDON EVENING STANDARD
Free Guy is now playing at Light House Cinema!