“If you are just wondering if Hollywood is just mimicking Bollywood now, the answer is yes. We have no shame...no shame at all,” said Ryan Reynolds in a promo of Free Guy. The idea is to sell this film to Indian audiences by publicising the similarities it apparently has with our mainstream cinema. I wish Ryan knew it’s Indian cinema, not Bollywood, though.
Moving on, yes, there are glossy sets, an underdog hero pining for a girl out of his league, some cool action sequences, and the evil (or should I Indianise and say ‘corporate’) villain like in many of our mainstream films. Yet, the essence of Free Guy is more of its Hollywood counterparts like The Matrix, Ready Player One, etc, except that given it is an action-comedy, this universe is cheesier and more vibrant… It’s about swings, bubblegum-flavoured ice cream, and everything nice.
Guy (Ryan Reynolds) is an NCP (Non-playable character) in the Free City game. For non-gaming comrades, who didn’t graduate beyond GTA: Vice City like myself, he is one of those background characters we shot and punched for the fun of it. Guy is a bank teller, who is programmed to follow a routine in the universe, which is built for the heroes. One fine day, Guy meets the heroine Molotov Girl/ Millie Rusk (Jodie Corner) and starts having ‘red pill’ effects.
She turns out to be Guy’s dream girl, but he has to ‘level up’ to even talk to her. Now, the mission of Millie and the storyline in the real world reminded me of the director Shawn Levy’s formative work Big Fat Liar. Like the 2002 comedy-drama, Free Guy has a plagiarist villain, Antwan, owner of Soonami Games, who uses the source code of indie gamers Jodie and her ‘platonic’ friend Walter ‘Keys’ (Joe Keery). With the help of Guy, the duo has to find evidence of plagiarism.
Despite a lack of novelty, Free Guy is gratifying because of its campiness. Its love, science, and emotions may be easily shrugged off as being superficial (which it is), but the film, like Guy, is hopelessly romantic and optimistic. It is also true that the rules the writers set for themselves in, are often broken at the drop of a hat. One moment, NCPs walk about mouthing the same lines over and over again, and in another, the awakened Guy gets deep lines about ‘living in the moment’ from his security buddy, Buddy (Lil Rel Howery).
Yet, you don’t mind such inconsistencies when the film offers mindless fun like the brilliant cameos, the slick stunts, and, of course... the Dude character. It wouldn’t be surprising if Free Guy doesn’t age well. It doesn’t go down the rabbit hole of philosophising much about free will or its consequences. It also assumes any new conscious being would be innately good like Guy, and the makers’ idea of a world without conflict, is a bit cloying. Yet, when you find yourself laughing at the jokes, you can’t argue against the filmmaker achieving what he has set for himself.
Film: Free Guy
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Joe Keery, Jodie Comer, Taika Waititi, Lil Rel Howery
Director: Shawn Levy