Taking the red pill: Ryan Reynolds breaks the simulation in ‘Free Guy’

Do you take the blue pill or the red pill? Wait, wrong universe. However, this is the premise of a group of films growing in the 21st century. Whether it’s virtual realities (VR) like “Ready Player One” or simulated realities from built sets like “The Truman Show,” from “The Matrix” to “Inception” and even “Wreck-It Ralph”. Pop culture, artificiality and video games intertwine to simulate the digital age we live in.

But if anyone ever lived a lie, resident and banker Guy Free City (Ryan Reynolds) is. Each day, she chooses a blue shirt and some persimmons from a closet tidy with them. Order the same coffee. Even, like Truman, he has a cheerful goodbye: “Don’t have a good day. Have a good day.”

It’s the same over and over again. But from the beginning, it is obvious that something is far from right. Every day, for example, Guy’s bank is stolen at gunpoint. He and his friend the security guard, Buddy (Lil Rel Howery), sit quietly on the ground each time and discuss their post-work plans.

Ryan Reynolds waves as he smiles at a scene in the movie

The revelation isn’t shocking: “Free City” is a virtual reality game and Guy is a background character, a non-playable character, or NPC. In the vast digital universe, Guy is the lowest-character, 8-bit character in a violent cyber city. It’s an extra that happens to be played by an A-lister.

“Free Guy”, which opens in theaters on August 13, is a smart meta-film, increasingly familiar, who enjoys watching a video game from the inside and become a background character a hero.

It’s more balanced and better than Steven Knight’s daring but cheeky “Serenity,” with Matthew McConaughey as the captain of a fishing boat that turns out to be a video game protagonist. But “Free Guy” is also predictable and fails to unlock the levels that its high-concept premise might have opened.

Ryan Reynolds (L) and Jodie Comer are together in one scene from the movie
Ryan Reynolds (R) is in the middle of a chaotic scene in the movie

Directed by Shawn Levy from a screenplay by Matt Lieberman (“Scoob !,” “Playing With Fire”) and Zak Penn (who co-wrote “Ready Player One”), “Free Guy” gets a significant boost from Jodie Comer , which plays virtual reality architect Millie and her in-game avatar, Molotov Girl, and demonstrates strength in any of its dimensions.

There are also cheerful and exaggerated performances by Taiki Waititi as the evil lord of the game, and – is it really him? – The long, latent Channing Tatum, a very welcome sight, with more extreme moves than those of “Magic Mike” as the game’s avatar.

Levy, a veteran director of warm-hearted comedies (the movies “Night at the Museum,” “Cheaper for the Dozen”), has a light touch and juggles the wildlife of the gaming world, such as “Grand Theft Auto “metropolis: as skillfully as that of the Museum of Natural History. He is particularly adept at switching from game to outside.

Ryan Reynolds (R) and Jodie Comer are together in one scene from the film
Jodie Comer (L) and Joe Keery in a scene from the movie

As Guy, wrapped up by Molotov Girl, grows beyond his coding and begins to compete with the rest of the game’s “sunglasses” (players), Millie and her former programming partner (Joe Keery) investigate whether Soonami, the giant gaming company run by Antwan (Waititi) stole their artificial intelligence (AI) design.

But “Free Guy” doesn’t take his concept to any particularly interesting place, but instead opts more for word games and references to interior study, while at the same time making self-references to his own originality. “Free Guy,” for sure, belongs in a rare big-budget summer movie, as it’s not based on previous intellectual property. And the movie has a lot of fun with that.

Antwan prepares a nasty sequel (a “See-QUAL” as Waititi points out) to “Free City,” which boasts of simply negotiating with the game’s strong IP. Still, but the end of “Free Guy,” a movie made by Fox when the Walt Disney Co. acquiring it, “Free Guy” drowns in his own references to pop culture, slipping into the music of the “Star Wars” theme and Captain The Shield of America.

Jodie Comer leans against a motorcycle surrounded by guns in a warehouse of a movie scene
Taika Waititi (L), Utkarsh Ambudkar (C) and Joe Keery chat in a scene from the movie

Maybe I’m being too hard on a movie mostly funny and forgettable. It has become a kind of trademark of Reynolds, also a local producer, to make great studio films that are not taken too seriously, that delight in a fourth-wall scheme eager to please.

“Free Guy” isn’t as anarchic as “Deadpool,” but he still likes to take a look at the camera.

Still, for a proud “original” movie, “Free Guy” isn’t that original. It’s a charming mix of clichés taken from other films, from “Tron” to “Truman,” without its own coding.

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