BAXTER — Game on!
Ryan Reynolds plays a sweet but overlooked background video game character in the new release “Free Guy” now playing at the Lakes 12 Theatre in Baxter and the Sunset Cinema in Jenkins.
His character Guy is a “Non-Player Character,” or NPC in gamer lingo, who has an existential crisis. The virtual bank teller realizes he is in a video game called Free City that will soon go offline and that it is up to him and the other disposable video game characters to save it.
The “Deadpool” actor trades the hallmark smarm he often uses in his other movies for a guileless and optimistic outlook reminiscent of “The Truman Show” or “The Lego Movie” in which audiences can’t help but root for the protagonist whose cheer and positivity are heroic.
In Guy’s violent and frenetic world filled with car chases, explosions and shootings, Guy meets a Lara Croft-like video gamer going by her online avatar Molotov Girl, who is played by Jodie Comer.
Comer is an English actress best known for the British drama spy thriller “Killing Eve.” She plays computer coder Millie Rusk in “Free Guy” whose alter ego Molotov Girl is the object of Guy’s affection after a chance encounter on the streets of Free City.
Molotov Girl infiltrates the world of Free City looking for evidence that Rusk’s software or video game she developed with Walter McKeys was stolen to make Free City. Keys is played by Joe Keery, best known for the science-fiction horror Netflix series “Stranger Things.”
The villain of “Free Guy” is video game maker Soonami's head developer Antwan, who is unforgettingly played by Taika Waititi. The New Zealand actor-director infuses his character with a hip-hop vibe and ruthless business streak that is laughable and easy to hate at the same time.
Waititi brought that same sort of surreal wackiness to “Thor: Ragnarok,” a Marvel movie he directed starring Chris Hemsworth, and “Jojo Rabbit,” in which he also had a bit part as an Adolf Hitler played for laughs for the Nazi leader’s lunacy.
In “Free Guy,” McKeys has since taken a job at Soonami, initially pitting him at odds with the discredited Rusk seeking redemption and their rightful credit as the developers of their own video game Life Itself that she alleges Antwan stole to make Free City.
Guy becomes self-aware with the help of Molotov Girl and agrees to help the fetching avatar bring down Antwan and Soonami but not before Antwan uses every dirty trick in his book to stop Rusk or kill Guy and his companions before the real world learns of his fraud and deception.
“I know this world is just a game, but this place, these people, that's all I have. So I'm not gonna be the good guy. I'm gonna be a great guy.”
"I know this world is just a game, but this place, these people, that's all I have. So I'm not gonna be the good guy. I'm gonna be a great guy," Guy tells Molotov Girl.
The lovelorn Guy riffs on popular culture, video game tropes and even philosophy and mindfulness in the two-hour epic and special effected-filled movie directed by Shawn Levy from a screenplay by Matt Lieberman and Zak Penn.
Channing Tatum does an extended cameo as a wannabe hero in Free City. His avatar has the attitude of a “Fast & Furious” character but with the moves of a “Magic Mike” dancer and the infectious Mariah Carey pop hit “Sweet Sweet Fantasy” sets the tone for the movie.
“Free Guy” is one of those rare summer blockbuster movies that seamlessly blends truly impressive special effects with heart and imagination in a family-friendly film rated PG-13.
“Free Guy” currently holds an 83% approval rating among critics and a 96% approval rating among audiences at Rotten Tomatoes, a review-aggregation website for film and television.
The critics’ consensus at RottenTomatoes.com: “Combining a clever concept, sweet, self-aware humor, and a charming cast, ‘Free Guy’ is frivolous fun.”