James Cole Clay has been working as a film critic for the better part of a decade covering new releases, blu ray reviews and the occasional drive-in cult classic. His writing is dedicated to discovering social politics through diverse voices, primarily focusing on Women In Film and LGBTQ cinema.
James Clay // Film Critic
Rated PG-13, 115 minutes.
Director: Shawn Levy
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Jodie Comer, Joe Keery, Taika Waititi, Lil Rel Howrey
When Shawn Levy’s FREE GUY hit theaters, it was the first original movie not based on a preexisting property at the top of the box office in years. Ryan Reynolds cemented himself again as a bonafide movie star after his false starts in the 2000s as a comedic actor and with Deadpool. Levy also is in a unique position with this career now that he finally has a hit that (most) critics and audience members can agree upon. For a good reason, FREE GUY is an effervescent piece of pop entertainment that establishes a tone, a world with humor, recognizable actors even if there are several burps and blunders along the way.
Reynolds plays Guy, a nonplayable character NPC in a Grand-Theft Auto like a computer game. He wakes up, talks to his goldfish, orders a medium coffee with cream and two sugars, and then goes to work as a bank teller to get robbed at gunpoint every single day. When Guy spots a sunglasses-wearing hero named Molotov Girl (Jodie Comer, the movie’s highlight) searching for a specific hidden sector within Free City he realizes there’s a lot to learn about the world.
FREE GUY is a delightful movie; it’s challenging to be utterly immune to the charms of an interactive world where anything goes, and cops wear bunny suits. But there’s a part of my cinephile brain that cynically rejects the film’s overly earnest narrative about finding yourself. Maybe I’m broken, but audiences love this film, and it’s not just due to the star at its center, which ends up being the weak link in the cast. Reynolds never makes exciting character choices, unlike his costars Jodie Comer, Lil Rel Howrey, Joe Keery, and Utkarsh Ambudkar. On the other hand, Taika Waititti pops up an hour in playing the villain and serving up the most baffling acting choices of his career.
FREE GUY does its best to please its audience and survive on the pure entertainment factor, which it can do quickly. Levy and screenwriter Zak Penn add a bit extra baking in a story about keeping your artistic integrity in a crippling corporate environment. Ballsy for sure, given the studio is 20th Century Studios subsidiary of Disney.
BUY/RENT: Studio releases primarily aren’t loading with anything too special in terms of background information about the film. Other than a little unique feature here and there filmed around the craft services table, the landscape is relatively rare. However, the special features are loaded up pretty hefty with deleted scenes, gag reels, and other specific features with FREE GUY. These include Taika’s World, Dude VS. Guy, Creating Free City, and more; the specificity on the disc adds more of a background for the fans, something actually of substance. The special features are genuinely solid for this type of release. My advice is to rent it first, and if you vibe with it, go ahead and give it a snag.
ESCAPE ROOM: TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS
The first ESCAPE ROOM was the rare January movie that was a sleeper hit with the mainstream and succeeded in finding a critical audience. In addition, director Adam Robitel’s movie was one of the last original films to be a box office hit before the pandemic crushed all movie-going experiences. So in a way, its a bit historic being one of the previous successful mid-budget films to be released exclusively in theaters.
ESCAPE ROOM: TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS is more of the same, and honesty, that’s a good thing. The movie only has one thing on its mind; escape rooms are going to kill you. That’s it, but with the latest entry, the series brings back Taylor Russell (WAVES), and Logan Miller (SHITHOUSE) in a sequel that’s evocative of HUNGER GAMES, meets SAW. Still, instead of working against each other, the victims are inclined to work together. It’s a nice spin when stressed-out minds stuck in a death trap are combining their brains instead of trying to murder each other. Adam Robitel talks about seeing the films as more psychological thrillers than straight-up horror movies on the special features. I’d say he’s correct; while people do die in these crazy games, the joy of TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS comes straight from watching these people solve a crazy riddle while lighting is striking all around a broken-down subway car.
TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS showcases a series of rooms that have to find inventive ways to put the victims in horrifying situations. This film largely succeeds, and part of the enjoyment is figuring out what each room will entail. Robitel leaves things open for the series itself to continue trapping Taylor Russell in rooms, and honestly good for her. The series takes itself seriously enough to keep you engaged and goofy enough to be comfort food for genre enthusiasts.
BUY/RENT: Since the special features are lacking, ESCAPE ROOM: TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS is a rental.