In ‘Free Guy’, a ‘Truman Show’ Video Game »Albuquerque Journal

Jodie Comer and Ryan Reynolds in a scene from “Free Guy”. Alan Markfield (20th century studios)

In reverse simulations, time loops, and reverse video games, a growing number of films are discussing the feeling of living in a false reality – of being a problem in the Matrix. Virtual realities become real (“Ready Player One”), televisions are turned off (“The Truman Show”), dream states do not wake up (“Inception”), arcade characters are released (“Wreck -It Ralph ”).

But if anyone has ever lied, it’s the banker and resident of Free City Guy (Ryan Reynolds). Every day he takes a blue shirt and some khakis from a neatly stowed closet with them. He orders the same coffee. He even says, like Truman, a happy goodbye: “Don’t have a good day. Have a nice day.”

It’s always the same thing. But from the start, it is obvious that something is very far from right. Every day, for example, Guy’s bank is robbed at gunpoint. He and his security guard friend Buddy (Lil Rel Howery) lay calm on the floor each time and discuss their plans after work. The reveal comes as no shock: “Free City” is a virtual reality game, and Guy is a background character – a non-playable character or NPC. In the expansive digital universe, Guy is the lowest of the lowest, an (8-) bit character in a violent cyber city. It’s an extra who just happens to be played by an A-lister.

“Free Guy” is a clever but increasingly familiar type of meta-movie that thrives on seeing a video game from the inside out and turning a background character into a hero. It’s more balanced and better than Steven Knight’s daring but quirky “Serenity,” with Matthew McConaughey as the fishing boat captain who turns out to be a video game protagonist. But “Free Guy” is also predictable and fails to unlock levels that his high concept premise might have opened.

Directed by Shawn Levy from a screenplay by Matt Lieberman (“Scoob! Plays both VR architect Millie and her in-game avatar, Molotov Girl, and proves to be a force in either. There are also cheerful and over-the-top performances by Taiki Waititi as the game’s evil overlord, and – is that really him? – the long-asleep Channing Tatum, a much-loved spectacle, displaying more extreme moves than those of “Magic Mike” as an in-game avatar.

Ryan Reynolds in a scene from “Free Guy”. (Courtesy 20th Century Studios)

Levy, a seasoned director of cozy comedies (the films “Night at the Museum”, “Cheaper by the Dozen”), has a light touch and he juggles with the wildlife of the video game world – a “Grand Theft Auto” -like metropolis – as skillfully as it did that of the Natural History Museum. He is particularly adept at rocking from the inside of the game to the outside. As Guy, knocked out by Molotov Girl, goes beyond his coding and begins to compete with the game’s other “people with glasses” (players), Millie and her former programming partner (Joe Keery) investigate whether Soonami, the giant of the game. game company run by Antwan (Waititi), stole their AI design.

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But “Free Guy” doesn’t take its concept in a particularly interesting place, settling more for video game puns and in-house studio references while at the same time making references to its own originality. “Free Guy”, for sure, belongs to a rare breed of big budget summer movies given that it is not based on previous intellectual property. And the movie has a lot of fun with that. Antwan is preparing a simplified sequel (a “See-QUAL” as Waititi points out) of “Free City” which he boasts of simply talking about the strong intellectual property of the game. Yet, but at the end of “Free Guy”, a film directed by Fox upon its acquisition by Walt Disney Co., “Free Guy” chokes on its own pop culture references, slipping into “Star Wars” themed music and Captain America’s Shield.

Maybe I’m too hard on an especially fun movie so forgettable. It has become sort of a hallmark of Reynolds, also a producer here, to make great studio movies that don’t take themselves too seriously, that revel in a greedy schtick that breaks the fourth wall. “Free Guy” isn’t as lawless as “Deadpool,” but he likes to wink at the camera just as much.

However, for a proudly “original” film, “Free Guy” is not really that original. It’s a charming concoction of shots from other movies, from “Tron” to “Truman”, without its own coding.

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