After I saw the Free Guy trailer, I imagined Disney thought, “Hey, why don’t WE mix Ready Player One with our Tron movie, add comedy, brighter colors, and more explosions!” And the Mouse did smile and said, “Make it so”, but then it was delayed for over a year because of you-know-what.
Welcome to Free City, a super popular online game like Fortnight where ordinary people can maim, attack, and destroy NPC’s (non-playing characters) and their city. In the middle of this mayhem is Guy (Ryan Reynolds) aka Blue Shirt Guy, an NPC who works at a bank, along with his buddy named Buddy (Lil Rel Howery), that gets robbed daily. But one day Guy decides he’s had enough of his boring, dull job and steals a gamers sunglasses, opening his eyes to his online world. He then falls in love with a British bad-ass avatar named Molotov Girl (Jodie Comer) who doesn’t know that Guy is an NPC and enlists him to join her on her quest inside the online game.
What is she looking for? Well, y’see, she and her BFF, Walter “Keys” McKeys (Joe Keery), once wrote a highly ingenious world-building game that used A.I. in their coding, but it was stolen by the nasty and sociopathic Antwan (Taika Waitiki), owner of Soonami Studios. Antwan used their program to make Free City and now Molotov Girl (aka Millie) is searching (just like Flynn did in Tron) for proof of their stolen work. But while Keys works on the inside as an employee, and Millie on the outside as a gamer, they face resistance: a kiss-ass employee name Mouser (Utkarsh Ambudkar) who’ll do anything for his insane boss.
Meanwhile, Guy is loving his new freedom as he’s helping Millie out and exploring all new things like feelings and love, but Millie becomes shocked and confused when she finds out that Guy has become self-aware & sentient! The ending (like in Ready Player One) has the same rallying cry to save the day, as the evil bad guy is trying to destroy the fake world, while the REAL world watches. You can pretty much guess what’s going to happen as the screenwriters, Zak Penn (X-Men: The Last Stand) and Matt Leiberman (The Christmas Chronicles), didn’t go for any originality in the plot. However, what they lacked in their story they excelled in filling in the gaps with outrageous, delicious filler.
There is SO much wild ‘n’ crazy fun in the script and Reynolds, being an innocent doofus through all of it, you can’t help but smile. Penn, who also co-wrote Ready Player One, gives you the same basic gaming structure, but Lieberman gives you a nice heart-warming love story mixed in. It’s an odd love triangle between Guy, Millie, and Keys, but they pull it off nicely. And let’s talk about those cameos! Some of the funniest moments in the movie include a hilarious cameo with Channing Tatum, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him Chris Evans, the late Alex Trebek, and more. One thing this movie is NOT lacking is all the unexpected surprises. The fight scenes are awesome and well-choreographed, something unusual for a comedy movie.
Reynolds and Comer are excellent together as their gaming, avatar selves, but you still root for Comer and Keely (Millie & Keys) as a couple. Stealing the movie are Howrey and Waitiki; every time these guys are on the screen they light it up. But you have to give major kudos to director Shawn Levy (Cheaper by the Dozen, all the Night at the Smithsonian movies) for shooting this absurd comedy and NOT making it look like a Deadpool sequel. Reynolds is playful, wise-cracking, and has his sarcastic wit, but he’s also grounded and like a little kid. It’s nice to see him in a role like this where he’s not slicing someone in half with a katana.
**Now showing only in theaters
Being sucked into a video game and forced to play its games isn’t anything new, just ask the guys over at Disney when they came up with the idea back in 1982. Jeff Bridges starred in this movie that wowed audiences with, at that time, cutting-edge video graphics of live-action and quasi-CGI graphics. Oh, what we’ve learned since then!
Fired computer software engineer extraordinaire and former ENCOM employee Kevin Flynn (Bridges) owns and operates Flynn’s, a pretty successful video arcade in town, but he’s got a secret: almost all of those video games the kids are playing were HIS idea, but were stolen by the ruthless Ed Dillinger (David Warner), a former colleague who is now the Senior Executive VP of ENCOM.
With Dillinger’s modifications, his MCP (Master Control Program) computer has become sentient and power-hungry, unlawfully annexing personal, corporate, and even government and military programs, assimilating them to itself to increase its own capabilities. Meanwhile, Flynn has been obsessed with getting proof that Ed stole all his gaming programs and regularly hacks into ENCOM’s computer. One night, thanks to his ex-girlfriend Lora Baines (Cindy Morgan) and her current boyfriend, Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner), they sneak into ENCOM to help Kevin hack into the MCP, but the MCP strikes back, zapping Flynn with an experimental laser that deconstructs Flynn into a computer program!
Placed on the ‘game grid’ along with other ‘programs’ (Flynn’s called a User), he’s forced to play deadly games against others, to the delight of Sark, Dillinger’s program doppelganger. But after Flynn escapes on a Light Cycle, he teams up with programs Ram (Dan Shor) and Tron (Boxleitner) in their quest to overthrow the evil MCP’s clutches. From there on it’s all pretty silly stuff with multiple chases and escapes all through the world of the inner computer landscape, flying weird contraptions called Recognizers, and getting away from Sark on a cool-looking Solar Sailer.
There’s the requisite final show-down between Tron and Sark/the MCP, not to mention Flynn being restored to his human self and getting his rightful place at ENCOM restored. Despite the absurdity of the story, it packed a wallop as far as content with its simplistic plot and eye-popping CG, which was super-cool looking at the time, I must admit. Writer/director Steven Lisberger (Animalympics, Hot Pursuit) did mostly video game directing & writing, so this was a cake-walk for him, scoring him points for Disney. Sadly, he never achieved any notoriety after this movie; this was his ‘one-hit wonder’.
Although it wasn’t a certified box office smash, it made bank and was considered ground-breaking for its content. Not too shabby. The actors were fairly good in this, when they weren’t being over-the-top, falling asleep, or trying too hard to be serious. In 2010, the long-awaited sequel Tron: Legacy opened to much fanfare, but ultimately bombed due to the lousy screenplay. Believe it or not, a third sequel is in the works. I really hope they get THAT one right!