A bank teller discovers that he’s actually an NPC inside a brutal, open world video game. (from IMDB)
Shawn Levy, the director who brought you the Night at the Museum franchise, Tina Fey and Steve Carell’s Date Night, and served as a producer for Stranger Things, now brings us the COVID-delayed action comedy, Free Guy. Co-produced by star Ryan Reynolds, Free Guy is a video game lover’s dream, as it imagines what it might be like if an NPC – “Non Playable Character” – suddenly decided it was bored with its mundane existence and started becoming a hero. Reynolds plays the character with charm, naivety and range to give us a hilarious character to love and root for.
Free Guy opens within the world of “Free City,” showing us a normal day in the life of Guy, a bank teller who loves his goldfish, to have the same coffee everyday and is used to the bank he works for getting held up several times each day. The movie begins feeling a lot like if Groundhog Day, Elf, The LEGO Movie and The Truman Show had a child together pretty quickly – with plenty of Ready Player One thrown in for good measure. Guy basically relives the same day over and over (Groundhog Day), possesses a lovable childlike wonder and innocence (Buddy the Elf in Elf and Emmet in The LEGO Movie) without realizing his world is utterly fake and exists expressly for the enjoyment of others (The Truman Show). While elements of the movie feel familiar, Free Guy also feels fresh. As a fan of video games myself, I got a lot of the in-jokes, and understood the world of Guy, while my wife who is less versed in the gaming culture still loved it for its sheer entertainment and comedic value.
Like The Truman Show or Ready Player One, the story is often split between the in-verse story and the real world story. The real world is populated by a series of characters who were involved in making the game “Free City,” and work for a game designer named Antwan (Taika Waititi) who is basically a jerk who cares more about numbers and making a buck than his own employees (something that is all-too-relatable in the entertainment industry of any kind). Stranger Things‘ Joe Kerry, who is probably most famous for playing Steve in that series, is a programmer nicknamed “Keys” here, and often teams up with the movie’s female lead, Millie (AKA Molotovgirl in the game world), who is trying to prove Antwan stole the framework of their original game design. Things unfold that explain why Guy is doing what he’s doing, and it proves that the multi-layered Free Guy is more than just a comedy, action movie, or video game movie; it ends up being a really fun romp through a digital world.
Sadly, Free Guy is more like Levy’s ventures Date Night and Stranger Things than Night at the Museum. One scene shows two pre-teen girls playing on their computers and a young girl who can’t be more than 12 years old says “Smoke that motherf–” and is cut off before she finishes the profanity. It’s meant to shock the viewer into laughing, but… yikes. A little while later, while we see a brief montage of Guy waking up and greeting his pet goldfish, Goldie, he ends the montage by emphatically saying “Good f—ing morning, Goldie!” which is hardly subtle and seems out of character for Guy (but not Reynolds). Guy only occasionally uses profanity, with surprisingly emphasized uses of “g*dd*mn” on occasion, and makes a bizarre analogy to Jesus when he takes a sip of coffee and, to express his joy about the taste, says, “It tastes like Jesus washed my tongue, but before he finished, he told my dad that he was enough.” (Or something like that.) Again, it feels more like Reynolds than Guy. Some crude humor is peppered throughout the movie, with a lot of it stemming from Channing Tatum’s cameo as a player skin for a creepy guy who stays at home all day gaming in his mom’s house. Tatum, as the brilliantly named Revenjamin Buttons, is shown doing all kinds of suggestive dance moves, and is seen yelling at his mom about not touching a “sock” that, if she touched it, would have her in therapy for the rest of her life because that’s his “special sock” (double yikes). There are also several jokes about virginity. The first is when Guy is first enjoying his cup of coffee in the morning and says “It’s like losing my virginity, but in my mouth!” And later, Millie’s character tells Guy, thinking he’s a real world player, that he’ll be a virgin forever because of his personality and attitude. Otherwise, there’s still a quite a bit of language in the movie, with a heap of “h*ll” used by characters, and in a song that plays twice in the movie, over a dozen uses of the “S” word, and some other blasphemy. Lastly, there’s a ton of violence in the movie, mostly exaggerated gun violence due to the world of Free City being a video game. The difference here is, however, while it’s supposed to be a video game, it looks like the real world most of the time. Guy gets tossed around like a rag doll from time to time, often resulting in his “death” in the game. Other characters are gunned down, execution style, blown up, run over, etc. If you’re familiar with video games like GTA, Fortnite or even Sims, none of it should be all that shocking, but it’ll especially be violent to those not used to it. Still, most of it is done in a comedic fashion. With all of the violence, however, it’s seldom graphic or bloody. When Guy first tries to rebel, he’s beaten up by a bank robber and has his nose broken, with it being visibly bent with blood on his face. (It goes away when he discovers the magic of a medpack pickup.) When we see an in-game lobby with game replay screens, one of them briefly shows a video game-style player getting hit in the face in slow motion with a little blood spraying and a tooth flying from their mouth. Lastly, in the same aforementioned bank robbing sequence, Guy grabs the robber’s shotgun and accidentally shoots him. We then see a big circular hole through the player character’s body and burning embers around the hole.
Edgy content aside, Free Guy is just a lot of fun. You don’t have to be an avid gamer to appreciate it, and Reynolds brings his A-game as Guy. Jodie Comer (Millie) and Kerry are really likeable as the human heroes in the real world, and Acadamey-Award-winning director Waititi is appropriately annoying as the film’s villain, Antwan. The movie surprisingly has a message about purpose and how we choose to live our lives. When a character starts to question their purpose in life and what it’s all meant for, a friend reassures them that just being in the moment for your friends and with people you love is all the purpose and meaning you would need. Sure, it misses the grand spiritual meaning of the Christian life, but it was a surprisingly deep and meaningful moment for a movie about artificial intelligence and video games to throw at its audience.
Free Guy is a wildly entertaining action comedy that delivers on a clever premise in a time when very little coming out of Hollywood is feeling fresh or unique. Video game fans will especially appreciate this one — it’s just unfortunate that Levy and his team couldn’t keep some of the language and crude humor out of it so younger viewers can enjoy it, too.
– John DiBiase (reviewed: 8/19/21)
iTunes / Digital Copy Bonus Features Review
Free Guy has only been in theaters for a little over a month (and is still in some theaters), but you can now purchase it at any digital retailer to watch at home or on the go. The HD iTunes digital copy of Free Guy includes the following extras:
Deleted / Extended Scenes (5:44) – There are three deleted or extended scenes with a Play All option. I kind of expected there to be more of these (especially since there’s a deleted gag in the trailer about fans of Guy getting hit by a car – and that doesn’t appear here), but these are all nice additions. “Guy and Buddy Hit the Beach” (1:08) is a great little scene between the two as they sit on the beach watching the ocean and drinking beers together. “Hot Nuts gets Blown” (0:20) may be a suggestive title for a deleted scene, but it’s actually a “Hot Nuts” street vendor, played by director Shawn Levy, who catches a grenade from a bad guy and explodes. Guy then retaliates against the bully by hitting him and stealing his glasses (1 “S.O.B.”). Lastly, “NPC Rally (Extended)” (4:08) is just a longer version of what we see in the film, with more rallying of the NPC troops (and there’s a little more profanity and blasphemy). (2 “g*dd*mn”, 1 “J-sus Chr-st”, 1 “Holy S***”, 1 “S” word,” 1 “sucks”)
Gag Reel (4:49) – This is a great gag reel that showcases lots of goofing off and having fun on set. There are a couple muffled cuss words, but the rest are bleeped out (4 bleeps, 1 “h*ll” and maybe 1 “S” word)
Dude vs Guy (15:56) – This is pretty amazing. Here, Levy goes into great detail about how they put this sequence together by using body builder Aaron Reed as the actor for “Dude”‘s role. The fight was filmed on location on a beach in Massachusetts. Ryan and Aaron both talk about the fight, while we see lots of filming for the stunt work and how they joined Ryan’s face with Aaron’s body. The featurette ends with post production three months later when Ryan was called back into a studio where they recorded just his face and head acting to be able to put over Aaron’s face to make Dude look like a ripped version of Guy. (3 “a” words, 2 “S” words)
Creating Molotovgirl (7:06) is about Jodie Comer’s character in both worlds — the game and the real world. Jodie had gone through extensive training to be able to do the fight scenes in the game, and the crew couldn’t say enough good things about her dedication. They also talk about the wardrobe design and the different looks she had throughout the movie. (2 “a” words, 1 “h*ll”)
It’s Taika’s World (8:34) is dedicated to actor/director Taika Waititi’s unique comedic voice and style, and what he brings to the role of Antwan. Here we see green screen tests of Taika and a whole bunch of outtakes of Taika riffing and improvising throughout filming. This is another great featurette. (2 “a” words)
Welcome to Free City (15:14) is all about the designing of Free City, mixing practical and digital effects, and trying to represent the gamer lifestyle accurately. We also learn that Ryan had approached Shawn with the idea in 2018 so the pair could team up for this project. It’s impressive the lengths they went through to make this dual world come to life.
Theatrical Trailers (8:23) – Lastly, there are three theatrical trailers. The earlier ones weren’t too rife with spoilers, but the last one definitely was. It’s still a neat little extra (albeit unnecessary) to include here.
– John DiBiase, (reviewed: 9/29/21)
Parental Guide: Content Summary
Sex/Nudity: A player lands in a sports car with a woman wearing a cleavage-revealing shirt. She tells him, “You’re hot!” and Guy’s voiceover comments that that’s not even the man’s wife; We see this same woman again tell a bank robber, “You’re hot!” Guy tells her she can do a lot better than these guys. She thinks about it and comments that maybe she doesn’t need a guy at all (which probably just means she can be alone, but can be taken another way too); Guy sips a cup of coffee and says it’s like losing his virginity, but in his mouth; Molotovgirl tells Guy “good luck being a virgin for the rest of your life” to which he thanks her; Keys and Millie talk about how Guy “pushed her button,” which grosses them both out. Keys then comments that he’s oddly intrigued by the idea; Buddy is fascinated by a muscular guy’s pecs and caresses and squeezes them; Revenjamin Buttons steps right up in Guy’s face. Guy awkwardly comments “They’re touching” and Revenjamin replies “Yes they are.” He then does some suggestive, relatively dirty dancing with pelvic thrusts and such and Guy even comments that it’s “kind of dirty”; The kid playing as Revenjamin Buttons yells at his mother not to touch his sock as she’s cleaning. He adds “unless you want to be in therapy for the rest of your life! That’s my ‘special sock’!”; After a player shoots down an NPC, we see him squat up and down on the dead body’s face (also known as “tea-bagging,” which is also referenced verbally once; Guy tries to tell Millie a joke, saying “A homosexual and a man in a wheel chair are trying to murder a small child” (or something like that). Millie freaks out and asks him where he heard that joke. He said he heard it from some other players and memorized it. She tells him to never repeat it again; Molotov straddles a motorcycle that Guy is on and looks surprised before asking “Is that a glock in your pocket?” He says “no,” and she looks even more surprised. He then adds “it’s two glocks.”
Vulgarity/Language: 1 “F” word, 1 incomplete “motherf—” from a young girl; The following is a rough estimate: 16 “S” words, about 20 “h*ll,” 5 “g*dd*mn,” 3 “d*mn,” 7 “Oh my G-d,” 2 “Oh G-d,” 2 “G-d,” 1 possible “J-sus,” 1 “sucks,” 3 “a–h*le,” 6 “a” words, 3 “d*ck,” 1 “p*ssed”; Keys gives a person the middle finger and then uses that finger to push a button on his laptop keyboard. We soon see Keys from behind giving two middle fingers to a building in front of him.
Alcohol/Drugs: Characters are seen drinking inside and outside the game. When we see floating icons in the game, a bottle of liquor can be seen as one of the things a player can pick up.
Blood/Gore: When Guy first tries to rebel, he’s beaten up by a bank robber and has his nose broken, with it being visibly bent with blood on his face. (It goes away when he discovers a medpack); When we see an in-game lobby with game replay screens, one of them briefly shows a video game-style player getting hit in the face in slow motion with a little blood spraying and a tooth flying from their mouth; In the same aforementioned bank robbing sequence, Guy grabs the robber’s shotgun and accidentally shoots him. We then see a big circular hole through the player’s character’s body and burning embers around the hole; Guy has some bloody scrapes on his face.
Violence: (Some spoilers ahead) Lots of video game-style violence involving real-life people set within a video game world; The opening scene shows a man jumping out of a plane, landing in a car, and blowing up other vehicles while speeding down the street. With that, we see cars flipping and exploding in the air as the man races through the wreckage; While Guy eats breakfast, we see a helicopter crashing and exploding outside his window; As he casually walks down the street (in several scenes), we see explosions, people getting shot, and other violence around him; A man is thrown through a store window onto the street, which seems to be a daily occurrence for him; A bank gets held up at gunpoint and the robber shoots out the teller glass windows as the workers get down on the floor. Buddy drops his gun belt to the floor and lies down. We see this bank scenario a couple times during the movie; At one point, while at the coffee shop, Guy questions the coffee order he gets every day and we slowly see a tank roll up outside the window and turn its turret in Guy’s direction. He then says he’s kidding and the turret turns away; Guy stands up to a bank robber who them proceeds to beat him up several times, breaking Guy’s nose. Guy then grabs the bank robber’s shotgun and accidentally shoots him, sending him flying backwards. We then see a charred hole in the game character’s chest (not gross); Molotovgirl meets a guy in a back alley for information. She says “no questions,” but as she leaves, he asks a question, so she shoots him; Guy puts on the video game glasses and can now see the video game world that’s hidden from the other NPC’s. We see more explosions and violence around him; Two police officers chase Guy, shooting at him (he dives behind a car). They then chase him to a high rise and Guy activates his jumping shoes, throwing him into ceilings and such. The scene ends when he’s hit by a train and wakes up again; We see game footage in the multiplayer lobby of a bank robber stepping on Guy’s face. Another screen shows a man getting hit in the face with some blood and a tooth flying out of his mouth in slow motion (shown as video game graphics); The players’ stash houses are shown loaded with vehicles and weapons; Guy shows up with Molotov as she’s about to enter a stash house. They’re shot at and she switches from a knife to a gun and fires back; Guy strains to pull the pin out of a grenade till Molotov takes it away from him; Later, Molotov sneaks into a stash house but a bunch of bots show up to fight her (she beats them up with a variety of weapons). Guy crashes in on a motorcycle and knocks down several bots before joining in the fight. At one point, he’s watching in delight as Molotov fights off multiple bad guys, but then Guy is attacked and uses a steering wheel to defend himself; Molotov and Guy ride a motorcycle through a window and then escape in the air on a hang glider; Guy throws water on a man who is running around on fire. He then thanks Guy but is shot dead by another player (played for laughs); Guy is shown fighting off some bad guys under an overpass, but is then blown away. He tries it again later and is able to beat them up; Guy is hit by two cars and flies through the air, so we see his crumpled body lying on the ground, appearing dead (But he then surprisingly says something, revealing he’s not – it’s played for laughs); A car is being chased by the buildings closing in, crushing the street the car is on. It just narrowly makes it out; The digital world starts crumbling, with buildings imploding and streets digitally eroding away. Some characters start to fall off the ends of these eroding streets but are pulled to safety; A man erodes into digital dust as he says goodbye (a little emotional); A muscular man fights Guy, who uses some recognizable weapons in defense. At one point, the man holds Guy down, squeezing his chest, till Guy gets out at the last moment; In the real world, a man hits many computer servers with an ax, causing them to spark and break; In the real world, we see news footage of a man being hauled away by police as he’s yelling… And lots of other video game world action violence (largely involving guns).