In the beginning there was “Groundhog Day”: Bill Murray stuck in a time loop, repeating his day over and over again.
Later there was “The Truman Show”: A cheery Jim Carrey in a sunny suburb blissfully ignorant that his life is controlled by an unseen outside force.
Later still there was “The Matrix”: Keanu Reeves’ Neo operating in a world created by an unseen machine intelligence.
And after that there was “The Lego Movie”: Chris Pratt as the unfailingly cheerful Emmet going his merry way in a world he has no idea is the construct of, yes, unseen outside forces.
Now there’s “Free Guy.” And behold, it’s Ryan Reynolds playing an ever so upbeat guy named Guy living in a colorful chaotic world that is the creation of — bet you’ll never guess — those gosh-darn invisible outside forces.
Originality is not exactly the strong suit of “Free Guy.”
Seen it. Been there. Ho-hum.
But wait. The plot may be nothing special, but Reynolds most certainly is. He’s just so relatable, genial, nice, in an unforced sort of way that he makes the movie, which he also produced, a fun ride.
His Guy is a happy-go-lucky bank teller who greets each and every customer with a sunny, “Don’t have a good day, have a great day.” And the thing is, he means it. Deeply. Sincerely. Each and every repetitive time. It’s unreal.
Guy, you see, is himself not real. He’s a background character in an elaborate, hyperviolent video game. He’s the brainchild of two young programmers, Millie (Jodie Comer) and Keys (Joe Keery), who seethe with resentment because although he’s their creation, they’ve been cheated out of their share of the game’s profits by the game company’s egomaniacal owner (Taika Waititi, overacting strenuously).
The central issue around which “Free Guy” revolves: What is reality, anyway?
Guy certainly believes he’s real. He has real emotions, primarily bone-deep positivity. And he truly cherishes his one friend, a security guard at the bank where he works played by Lil Rel Howery, who is as good-natured as Guy.
And one more thing: He has a real romantic yearning for an athletic vision in skintight leather pants with a white blouse and a truly awesome expertise with firearms. That’s a useful skill in a world where people are forever being shot and blown up, jets are strafing, tanks are blasting, buildings are exploding and banks, Guy’s specifically, are being robbed on a daily basis. Every action-movie cliché plays out simultaneously and continuously in this game, which is, naturally, hugely popular.
The vision goes by the name Molotovgirl (she’s Millie’s alter ego, also played by Comer) and she has a weakness for bubble gum ice cream. Which just so happens to be Guy’s favorite flavor. Romance is born.
As was the case with Carrey’s character in “The Truman Show” and Reeves’ in “The Matrix,” Guy is made aware (thanks to Millie/Molotovgirl) of the existence of the invisible forces controlling his life, and gradually rebels. A product of artificial intelligence, he becomes self-aware, and as he does so he increasingly disrupts the game with his nice-guy rebelliousness. That gives fits to Waititi’s owner character and he demands Guy be erased from the online world.
Under the direction of Shawn Levy (all three “Night at the Museum” features), “Free Guy” zips along with a heavy emphasis on its cartoonish violence.
There’s nothing new here, but thanks to Reynolds it’s worth stepping out to a theater to enjoy a tasty summertime treat.