Virtual Mess: Gamers might like ‘Free Guy,’ but it’s a slog for everyone else

Ryan Reynolds grinds a bit on the tolerance nerve in Free Guy, a mundane movie made for gamers that will leave you non-gamers feeling left out of the party.

Some up front honesty: I have a PlayStation 4 that I haven't plugged in for more than three years. The last game I played was some Star Wars thing that kept my interest for about two sessions before I decided to use my time wisely and watch Breaking Bad from start to finish again. I do know enough about gaming to say that the plot and visuals of Free Guy seem to rip-off the Grand Theft Auto and Crazy Taxi games. See, I just dated myself by referencing Crazy Taxi. Not a gamer.

Reynolds does his normally likeable but this time a little tedious super happy guy shtick as Guy, a background character in a popular video game that features car chases, bank robberies and deaths by train. Guy wants a girlfriend, and when he sees Millie the superhero (Jodie Comer) walking around, he falls in love and it "awakens" something within. He swipes some superhero sunglasses, and then starts seeing all of the fun ways to get strength and make money. He's on his way to being a real player.

As for the real-world players of the game, Millie is guided by the real-life Millie, a programmer who plays the game in an attempt to prove its core processing was stolen from her and Keys (Joe Keery), an employee of the game's maker, a company led by the wisecracking Antoine (a surprisingly unfunny Taika Waititi).

Director Shawn Levy directs all of the proceedings with a flat journeyman director approach to comedy and action reminiscent of crap like the Night at the Museum movies, which makes sense because he's the director of the Night at the Museum movies. The attempts at laugher are lacking in wit, and the action sequences feel drawn out and repetitive. There's a whole lot of Ryan Reynolds jumping around and flying through the air and throwing punches with no real sense of purpose.

At almost two hours, it feels like four, with a screenplay that seems confused about what exactly it is trying to do. There's a strange element where the real-life Millie starts to actually fall in love with game character Guy. Rather than play this for outlandish laughs, Levy and crew take the love story element seriously, and it just feels kind of creepy and diminishes the Millie character's credibility. Again, this kind of goofy love story angle could come off just fine in the hands of a competent director but, as we mentioned before, Levy is the director of the Night at the Museum movies. (OK...I went back and looked, and I actually sort of liked the third Night at the Museum movie a little bit after hating the first two, so I am officially extending 1/3 of an apology to Mr. Levy.)

The film contains a long line of cameos, including Channing Tatum. Not giving too much away there in that Tatum shows up immediately in the movie, so there you go. If you like Channing Tatum, have at it. There are also plenty of voice cameos I will not give away, and lots of cameos by gaming culture celebrities. I figured out they were streamer celebrities because a large swath of the audience cheered when they popped on doing gamer commentary. Like I said earlier, this movie is for the gamers and has a better chance of being enjoyed by gamers.

Comer is actually pretty good in the movie, even if her character's arc goes in some ridiculously handled directions. Waititi just sort of goes through the motions, seemingly improvising lines that just don't land in a funny place and looking even a little frustrated with his lack of success. Tatum, in his extended cameo, actually has what is easily the best moments in the film, so good that you sort of wish the whole movie was just about his guy. Reynolds gets a second role in the movie in a move that feels an awful lot like his doubling as Juggernaut in Deadpool 2.

As somebody who usually enjoys Reynolds, I was surprised by just how much I wanted him to shut up and go away in Free Guy. This movie was definitely not made for the likes of me, and if your house lacks a videogame console and a general appreciation for gaming culture combined with an affinity for all things Ryan Reynolds, it's probably not for you, either.