World Premiere of "Free Guy"

Actor Ryan Reynolds, right, and wife Blake Lively attend the world premiere of "Free Guy" at AMC Lincoln Square 13 on Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021, in New York. 

There are few comedies that actually live up to the hype of their trailers.  Too often the best jokes and the complete plot are ruined by the previews.  That isn’t the case with Ryan Reynolds’ new movie, “Free Guy.”

While it’s clear from the trailers and promos that most of the film takes place in a sandbox-style video game called “Free City,” not everything has been given away.  Reynolds plays Guy, a video game non-player character (NPC) who works at the Free City Bank; he begins evolving when he falls in love with Molotov Girl/Millie (Jodie Comer, “Killing Eve”), a real-world player.

They join forces so that Millie — a game designer — can find proof that the central video game coding was stolen by its publisher played by Taika Waititi (“Thor: Ragnarok”); the movie borrows plot thread elements from heist movies while sticking to its action-comedy roots.

All of that is given away by the promotional materials put out by 20th Century Studios — Disney’s Fox rebrand.  This technically makes the movie a Disney property while being simultaneously un-Disney.

While some humorous elements are irreverent, its more or less family-friendly.  There is one F-Bomb use — allowed under the MPAA’s PG-13 rating restrictions — but the swears are remarkably few and far between, which is a plus.

“Free Guy’s core content is the most interesting part.  Screenwriter Matt Lieberman’s script masks a philosophical message:  Go out and live your life without merely being a spectator; be a driver not a passenger.

This is unexpectedly refreshing, especially considering that people are becoming more and more comfortable vicariously going on adventures through gaming or the safety of their YouTube screens; while it can be educational to watch others live their lives, it is ultimately unfulfilling.

The film also takes a stab at exploring simulation theory, a hypothetical conversation questioning reality.  The film questions how life expands and evolves through a computer simulation and questions if a person is real or not.  Films like “The Matrix” look at it through a bleak lens whereas “Free Guy” views it as an optimistic exploration of Artificial Intelligence development.

Beyond that, the film is a two-part love letter.  There is a love story at the plot’s core, and part of that is one element given away in the trailers, but foreshadowing and subtext hint at an unexpected turn.

But the movie is also a love letter to gamers.  There are Easter egg references and pop culture callbacks to other film and video game IP’s meant as nods to the fans.  There are other self-referential jokes whose meta qualities pick apart some of the tropes that either encourage or supremely annoy gamers of all stripes.

The performances in the movie are strong.  The friendship between Guy and his best friend, Buddy, (Lil Rel Howery) is genuine, and the chemistry between Reynolds and Comer is charming and a touch innocent.  The usually quirky and likeable Waititi stretches himself as a wholly unlikeable game publisher.

Shawn Levy (“Reel Steel,” “The Internship”) directs a tight, hilarious story that leaves audiences feeling good once credits roll.  While not your typical rom-com, “Free Guy” is a great date night movie.

To paraphrase Guy’s catchphrase, “don’t just see a good movie this weekend, go see a great movie!”

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