For the second time in a month, we have a movie that borrows a few plot points from the original “TRON,” takes place mostly inside a computer, features a number of characters from other properties, and has a hilarious cameo in the third act. No, this isn’t the latest “Space Jam,” it’s Ryan Reynolds’s latest Rom-Com, “Free Guy.”
Written by Matt Lieberman and Zak Penn (Who also penned “Ready Player One”) “Free Guy” follows the mundane life of Guy (Ryan Reynolds) in the uber-violent Free City. Each day he wakes up, says hello to his goldfish, grabs a coffee on his way to work at the bank, and experiences a robbery. No matter what violence he is exposed to, he wakes up fresh and raring to go the following morning eager to make it a “great day!” Guy exists in a digital Groundhog Day and is quite content with his repetitive life…almost. Unbeknownst to him, Guy and all his friends are Non-Playable Characters inside an open-world video game. They are aware of a different level of inhabitants in their city, known as “Sunglass People.” The ones wearing sunglasses are regarded as heroes even though most of their actions involve death and destruction. Guy has a nagging feeling that there must be something more, but it’s not until he has an encounter with Molotov Girl (Jodie Comer) that he decides to break out of his routine. Snagging a pair of sunglasses from another player, he beings to learn the true nature of his world.
In the real world, Molotov Girl is a programmer named Millie looking for her stolen code which is rumored to be hidden somewhere within the programming of Free City. Millie had been creating an online utopia with her programming partner Keys (Joe Keery) when they sold out to a large software company run by the eccentric Antoine (Taika Waititi).
At the beginning, the movie unfolds as one would expect. Ryan Reynolds leans heavily into his “Van Wilder” roots, with a ridiculously optimistic outlook as the city blows up around him in a special effects extravaganza. But after the world and the key players are introduced, the film begins to take some unexpected turns. Guy begins to make progress in his personal journey by literally being the nicest guy in the game. He begins to grow as a program and within the confines of the virtual world, his AI becomes self-aware, and he begins to fall in love with the literal girl of his dreams. As the story progresses and takes a few more twists it develops into a rather sweet romantic comedy. And, as Guy learns the truth about his existence, the movie even dips into some light philosophy on the meaning of life. There are moments that could easily be groan-inducing, but the delivery is so earnest and so optimistic, it’s impossible to not get swept along.
“Free Guy” may be derivative of a lot of other sources, but it’s hard to find another movie out right now that is as free-spirited and uplifting as this.