Review: ‘The Lost City’ (2022), starring Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum

March 23, 2022

by Carla Hay

Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum in “The Lost City” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

“The Lost City” (2022)

Directed by Aaron Nee and Adam Nee

Culture Representation: Taking place in unnamed parts of the world, the comedy film “The Lost City” features a cast of predominantly white characters (with some Latinos, African Americans and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A famous, jaded and reclusive romance novelist is kidnapped by a wealthy treasure hunter, and the male model for her book covers goes on a mission to rescue her. 

Culture Audience: “The Lost City” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of stars Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum’s comedy skills, but they are the biggest assets to this formulaic movie.

Daniel Radcliffe and Héctor Aníbal in “The Lost City” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

Completely predictable on every level, “The Lost City” is saved by the considerable comedic talents of its starring cast members. It’s breezy and lightweight entertainment that doesn’t try to be anything else. It’s the first slapstick comedy film in years for many of “The Lost City” stars. And while the movie is not a complete triumph, it’s not a total embarrassment either. “The Lost City” had its world premiere at the 2022 South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival.

Directed by brothers Aaron Nee and Adam Nee, “The Lost City” checks all the boxes we’ve come to expect in predictable romantic comedies. The female protagonist and the male protagonist have personality clashes and try not to pretend there’s sexual tension between them. (Or they have a platonic friendship where they pretend that they’re not going to get romantically involved.) There’s usually at least one sidekick who’s a best friend or close colleague. And then, there’s some reason why the bickering, would-be couple have a reason to keep running into each other and/or they get thrown together for a common goal.

In “The Lost City” (written by the Nee brothers, Dana Fox and Orien Uziel), the basic concept is that prickly and reclusive author Loretta Sage (played by Sandra Bullock), a widow whose specialty is romantic adventure novels, reluctantly goes on a book tour to promote her latest book called “The Lost City.” Loretta is not pleased at all to find out that the guy who is the hunky model for her book covers will be on this book tour too. Loretta thinks that he’s shallow, vain and no match for her intellect.

The name he uses as a model is Dash (played by Channing Tatum), but his real name is Alan McMahon. And he wears a long-haired blonde wig for his modeling assignments as Dash. Dash/Alan is as freewheeling as Loretta (whose real name is Angela) is uptight. Loretta’s support team includes her loyal and outspoken book publisher Beth Hatten (played by Da’Vine Joy Randolph) and Loretta’s eager-to-please social media manager Allison (played by Patti Harrison), who has the Nervous Nellie role in the movie.

At a meet-and-greet appearance with Loretta’s mostly female fans, Dash gets a lot more attention than Loretta, just as she feared and predicted. (Bowen Yang has a cameo as a Q&A moderator named Ray.) Loretta doesn’t have long to gripe about Dash’s popularity though, because she’s kidnapped from the hotel by a wealthy superfan named Abigail Fairfax (played by Daniel Radcliffe), who takes himself, some of his goons and Loretta by private plane to a tropical island, where he expects her to find the treasure that she wrote about in “The Lost City.” Alan feels bad about his conflicts with Loretta, so he decides to come to her rescue.

Dash/Alan recruits a rescue expert named Jack Trainer (played by Brad Pitt), who is ridiculously over-the-top with his action hero stunts. Jack isn’t in the movie for long, for every reason that you think that an A-list star like Pitt wouldn’t add his usual eight-figure actor’s salary to this movie’s production budget, if he had more screen time. More shenanigans ensue in a jungle, and the movie ends exactly how most people will think it ends.

One of the main reasons why “The Lost City” is tolerable despite its utter triteness is because of the comedic timing and chemistry of Bullock and Tatum, who thankfully do not take themselves seriously at all. Their characters’ back-and-forth banter isn’t very witty, but they do land some memorable zingers here and there. During one of their many arguments, Loretta tells Alan in a prickly manner why she can’t give sexist condescension: “I’m a woman. I can’t mansplain anything.” Alan snaps back: “I’m a feminist, and I think a woman can do anything a man can do.”

Radcliffe also has some amusing moments, as does Randolph, although Randolph does have the type of “You go, girl!” dialogue that’s kind of a cringeworthy stereotype of an African American female sidekick. Oscar Nuñez as has an inconsequential role as a man named Oscar, who becomes infatuated with Beth. “The Lost City” is exactly what it needs to be for a movie that wisely kept its total running time to a little under two hours. (Stick around for a surprise during the mid-credits scene.) Unless someone is in an extremely bad mood when watching “The Lost City,” there are some laughs to be had with this entertaining but insubstantial comedy film.

Paramount Pictures will release “The Lost City” in U.S. cinemas on March 25, 2022, with sneak previews in select cinemas on March 23, 2022.

Review: ‘Dog’ (2022), starring Channing Tatum

February 17, 2022

by Carla Hay

Channing Tatum in “Dog” (Photo by Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures)

“Dog” (2022)

Directed by Reid Carolin and Channing Tatum

Culture Representation: Taking place in Montana and the West Coast of the United States, the comedy/drama “Dog” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: In exchange for a job recommendation from an ex-boss, a former Army Ranger agrees to take an unruly Belgian Malinois named Lulu, who has been hailed as a war hero, to the funeral of the Army sergeant who was her handler.

Culture Audience: “Dog” will appeal mainly to people who are fans of star Channing Tatum and anyone who likes “rowdy dog” movies, no matter how dull and cliché they are.

Channing Tatum in “Dog” (Photo by Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures) 

“Dog” can’t seem to decide if it wants to be a wacky comedy or a sentimental drama. Either way, it’s a dull misfire. The movie’s star dog literally takes a back seat to stupid antics from humans. Considering how irritating so many of the human characters are in the movie, it would have been a welcome improvement to give more screen time to the dog. In addition, “Dog” is completely irresponsible in showing legal issues of how people should handle problematic dogs that were trained to attack and kill.

“Dog” is one of those films where the funniest scenes are already in the movie’s trailer. And they’re not very funny, because the concept of an exasperated person who’s stuck taking care of an unruly dog has been done so much better in other movies. In addition, “Dog” is a road trip movie that rehashes the same old stereotypes of “mismatched duos” who are forced to go on the road together. And yes, one of the movie’s numerous clichés is a car breaking down during a crucial part of the road trip.

Channing Tatum stars in “Dog,” his feature-film directorial debut, which he co-directed with Reid Carolin, who wrote the “Dog” screenplay. In the movie, Tatum plays Jackson Briggs (who likes to be called by his last name), a down-on-his-luck former U.S. Army Ranger, who wants to get back into some type of government protection job. Instead, Briggs is living in Montana and working at a low-paying, behind-the-counter job at a deli. Briggs lives alone and is divorced. His ex-wife Niki (played by Q’orianka Kilcher) and their 3-year-old daughter (played by identical twins Jacqueline Seaman and Francine Seaman) live in Arizona.

The biggest obstacle to Briggs getting his dream job is that he has a history of brain injuries. Briggs has applied for a diplomatic security job at a company called Black Canopy Global Security. This job application won’t be considered unless he gets a full medical exam certified by his former commanding officer. The movie has some repetitive scenes of Briggs persistently calling Black Canopy Global Security to find out what he has to do to make it to the next level of this job application process.

Briggs has been told repeatedly that even though he has completed the medical exam with a doctor’s approval, he still needs to have his former commanding officer sign off on the exam. During one of these phone calls, Briggs finds out that the applications have a yearly rotation (people can only apply once a year), and this year’s rotation closes on the following Wednesday. “I can’t wait until next year’s rotation!” Briggs exclaims. “You’ll be hearing from me.”

Meanwhile, Briggs gets some bad news: A former Army buddy named Sgt. Riley Rodriguez (played by Eric Urbiztondo, seen only in photos) has died in a single-car crash, when Riley’s car rammed into a tree. Was it an accident or a suicide? The answer is revealed in the movie. And it’s exactly what you think it is.

Briggs goes to his former work base Fort Lewis in Joint Base Lewis–McChord in Washington state for the memorial. He meets up with some of his former Army buddies at a bar, but he feels slightly out of place because he’s the only one at this gathering who’s not in the military. They talk about Riley and the good times they had with him.

While he’s in the area, Briggs visits his former commanding officer at Fort Lewis. He almost doesn’t get in because his employee pass has expired, and the Fort Lewis MP (played by Devin White) at the gate won’t let him through the gate. Briggs acts hostile and defensive, even though the MP is just doing his job. It’s the first sign that Briggs can be an entitled jerk.

But luckily, right at that moment, Briggs’ former commanding officer Captain Luke Jones (played by Luke Forbes) drives up and tells the MP at the gate that it’s okay to give Briggs access. Briggs then drives through the gate while giving the MP a smug grin. This gatekeeping scenario is repeated again in other parts of the movie, with Briggs reacting in obnoxious ways to the guard at the gate, such has giving him the middle finger and cursing at him. Briggs is so immature, you almost expect him to stick out his tongue like a bratty child during these interactions.

When Briggs explains to Captain Jones that he needs him to certify Briggs’ medical exam for this security job application, Captain Jones initially refuses and asks sarcastically if Briggs paid a bribe to get a doctor clearance on a medical exam. However, Captain Jones changes his mind when he tells Briggs that he needs someone to transport Riley’s combat dog—a Belgian Malinois named Lulu—to Riley’s home state of Arizona to attend Riley’s funeral. After that, the dog will undergo euthanasia, because Lulu has been deemed unfit for adoption.

Captain Jones says that if Briggs can get Lulu to the funeral and back to Fort Lewis with no mishaps, then he will certify the medical exam for Briggs’ job application. The trip has to be done by car, because Lulu is too dangerous to take on public transportation. Captain Jones warns Briggs: “Lulu is not the same dog you served with. She’s got every combat trigger in the book.”

A montage at the beginning of the movie shows that Lulu was born on August 12, 2014. She was adopted at 5 months old by the Fort Lewis 75th Ranger Regiment. She served with Riley in the Afghanistan War. Lulu is considered too hard to handle because she has the canine version of post-traumatic stress disorder. She’s easily agitated and might attack if she’s “triggered.” (Three dogs actually play Lulu in the movie. Their names are Zuza, Britta and Lana 5.)

Lulu often has to wear a muzzle because of how unpredictable she is with her attacks. Briggs finds out the hard way when he sees Lulu for the first time in years. And she immediately knocks him down during an attack. Captain Jones and the kennel master (played by Trent McDonald) just laugh at this spectacle. Expect to see more “out-of-control attacking dog” scenes that wouldn’t be funny at all in real life.

As so, off Briggs and Lulu go on this road trip in his 1984 Ford Bronco. Briggs is told the dog can only wear the muzzle for two hours at a time, or else she’ll get overheated. Briggs starts his road trip with Lulu on a Wednesday. The funeral is four days later, on a Sunday. His job application is due the following Wednesday. Therefore, “Dog” is not only a road trip movie, but it’s also a “race against time” movie. But you wouldn’t know it by how this movie drags and lumbers along with distractions that would take up valuable hours in real time.

Early on in the road trip, Briggs stops at a shooting range to spend time there for fun. When he comes back to his Bronco, he finds that Lulu has broken out of her carrier and chewed up the upholstery seating. “You’re just a demon!” he yells at Lulu, before he drugs her so that she’ll go to sleep. Briggs openly laughs that he can make this dog unconscious whenever he wants. Yes, this movie tries to make a pathetic joke out of a dog being drugged to unconsciousness.

It should come as no surprise that at some point in the movie, Briggs doesn’t bother putting the muzzle on her. That’s because there are many scenes contrived so that Lulu’s agitated barking causes unwanted attention, with Briggs acting mortified, while some unrealistic slapstick comedy scenario ensues. These scenarios have no imagination and are actually not very amusing.

One of the stops on the Briggs Buffoonery Tour is Portland, Oregon. The filmmakers of “Dog” must have some type of grudge against Portland, because there’s a big chunk of the movie that shows open disdain for Portland residents. Everyone in Portland is depicted as progressive liberal hipsters, weirdos or aging hippies who automatically dislike/distrust people with a military background. It’s an over-the-top portrayal that’s supposed to be funny, but it just comes across as lazy and unrealistic stereotyping. Portland is a lot more diverse than the narrow-minded, warped way that the city’s residents are depicted in “Dog.”

On his first night in Portland, Briggs goes to a bar to find any woman who wants to have sex with him. The bartender (played by Luke Jones) announces to Briggs that they only serve organic beer. While waiting in line to use the restroom, Briggs is pestered by a guy (played by Cole Walliser) babbling to him about technology and virtual gifts. And then, Briggs meets a succession of women who don’t have regular conversations with him. They give sanctimonious lectures spouting their political views to let him know how “woke” they are.

One woman named Sonia (played by Tory Freeth) says she likes country music but has a problem with how country music celebrates “toxic masculinity.” Did she forget that there are plenty of successful female country artists? Another woman named Natalie (played by Skyler Joy) scolds Briggs after she find out he’s an Afghanistan War veteran: “Did you realize you were just a pawn for Big Oil? Just body bags carrying out ecological genocide for the corporate elite?” Another woman named Tara (Patricia Isaac) says she’d like to meet any man who doesn’t have a “white savior complex.”

Briggs leaves the bar in disgust at all the politically correct people he met there. In the parked truck, he tells Lulu, “We’ve got to get out of here, because you’re the only woman in this entire city that I’d like to have a conversation with.” But just then, Briggs thinks he’s going to get lucky with two women who approach him in the parking lot because they see Lulu in his truck. The women—whose names are Bella (played by Emmy Raver-Lampman) and Zoe (played by Nicole LaLiberte)—live together and have Shih Tzus with them, so they all talk about their dogs. Bella and Zoe, who describes themselves as “tantric healers,” invite Briggs back to their house, for what he’s sure will be a sexual threesome.

Bella, Zoe and Briggs start to get touch-feely at the house, and his shirt comes off. Lulu doesn’t like being cooped up in the truck, of course. She starts barking loudly while the Bronco is parked out on the street, in front of Bella and Zoe’s house. A nosy next-door neighbor named Brad (played by Timothy Eulich) comes out of his house and gets angry—not at Lulu, but at Briggs for keeping the dog in the car. Brad yells that the dog is an “abused animal” and continues his rant by saying, “Animals are people too!”

A shirtless Briggs runs outside to see what all the commotion is about, and he sees that Brad has a rock in his hand. Briggs tells Brad to put down the rock, but an incensed Brad calls Briggs a “redneck,” even though Brad knows nothing about Briggs. And then, Brad throws the rock at the back window to smash it and so Lulu can jump out of the car. (And apparently, with “concerned animal lover” Brad not caring if the shattered glass could injure the dog.)

After the entire back window is broken, Lulu jumps out and tears off part of Brad’s jacket before he quickly runs back into his house. Bella and Zoe, who witnessed all this chaos, are so turned off by this violence, they don’t want anything to do with Briggs. Briggs has a hissy fit while he puts Lulu back in the car again. He yells at Lulu: “You ruined an epic threesome!” And then he shouts at her: “Bitch!” Yes, the movie is that idiotic.

Briggs finds himself in more ridiculous scenarios. In one sequence, Lulu runs away in a wooded area, with Briggs giving chase on foot. He ends up in a marijuana greenhouse owned by a hippie-ish married couple named Gus (played by Kevin Nash) and Tamara (played by Jane Adams), who’s another “cosmic” type who likes to talk about karma and energy. It’s one of the worst parts of the movie because of how mindless and unfunny it is. (Hint: A tranquilizer gun and a kidnapping are involved in this scenario.)

More of Briggs’ asinine antics continue. Another low point in the movie is in San Francisco, where he pretends to be a blind military veteran so he can get a free room at a luxury hotel. What happens in the hotel is partially shown in the trailer for “Dog.” But there’s a tone-deaf scenario in the movie where Briggs is accused of being a racist after Lulu attacks a man wearing Muslim garb in the hotel lobby, because she was trained to attack men wearing Muslim garb in the Afghanistan War.

Unrealistically, Briggs is arrested for a hate crime, when he should have been arrested for negligent handling of an animal. As shown in the movie’s trailer, Lulu’s rampage also “outed” Briggs for not being blind, as he claimed he was, so he’s also arrested for fraud. Needless to say, there’s more time wasted as Briggs is locked up in jail.

The man who was attacked is named Dr. Al-Farid (played by Junes Zahdi), who has to decide whether or not he’ll press charges against Briggs. Because this movie is so sloppily written, it never addresses how the hotel wants to handle the fraud charges. It also never shows what would happen in real life: The dog would be taken away to a city animal shelter and undergo euthanasia because it viciously attacked a human being who did not provoke the dog.

But there would be no “Dog” movie in all of its awfulness if the movie tried to be realistic. Briggs’ version of “dog therapy” is to show Lulu videos of herself fighting in a combat zone. (Briggs gets the videos from an I Love Me scrapbook that Riley made for Lulu.) Not only does Briggs stupidly reinforce anti-social behavior for the dog, but he also rewards the dog for it with treats, like she’s a child who needs to just be parked in front of a TV and given snacks while watching violent videos of herself. It’s so heinous and absolutely the wrong way to teach a dog how to un-learn violent training.

After a lot of pathetic attempts to be a zany comedy, the movie takes an abrupt turn into sappiness that’s supposed to be tearjerking but comes across as cynical and calculated. It’s all very unearned. People who know how long it takes for a problematic dog to un-learn any dangerous training will be rolling their eyes at the ending of the movie. Lulu’s personality transformation in less than a week is very unreal.

There’s a scene where Briggs meets a man named Noah (played by Ethan Suplee), and it’s enough to say that no expert “dog whisperer”/dog trainer in the world would be able to accomplish what Noah does in less than an hour. This dog would’ve been permanently taken away from Briggs after his arrest in San Francisco. An incompetent character like Briggs makes things worse, but the movie lets him off the hook too easily. The redemption arc that’s rushed in at the end of the movie is extremely phony.

There’s not much to say about the acting in this movie except that most of it ranges from adequate to not very impressive. The movie’s editing, tone and pacing are all very uneven. The horrendous screenplay has too many plot holes and unrealistic scenarios that give misleading depictions of how military combat dogs are handled. And a big takeaway from “Dog” is that Tatum has the dubious distinction of co-directing himself in a movie where a dog has a better personality and more intelligence than the character he plays in the movie.

Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures will release “Dog” in U.S. cinemas on February 18, 2022.

Review: ‘Free Guy,’ starring Ryan Reynolds, Jodie Comer, Lil Rel Howery, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Joe Keery and Taika Waititi

August 5, 2021

by Carla Hay

Jodie Comer and Ryan Reynolds in “Free Guy” (Photo by Alan Markfield/20th Century Studios)

“Free Guy”

Directed by Shawn Levy

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the action comedy film “Free Guy” features a predominantly male, mostly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Asians and one Māori/indigenous cast member) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A video game’s simulated city becomes the focus of conflict from the game’s characters and the gamers in the real world who want to manipulate actions in this simulated city.

Culture Audience: “Free Guy” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in comedic action movies that revolve around video game culture and put more emphasis on style over substance.

Taika Waititi, Utkarsh Ambudkar and Joe Keery in “Free Guy” (Photo by Alan Markfield/20th Century Studios)

“Free Guy” looks like an outdated idea for a video game movie that would’ve worked better when the SimCity video game was first released in 1989. It’s a dumb action comedy that tries to be clever with convoluted video game scenarios to dress up its very weak plot and cringeworthy jokes. The movie overloads on tech jargon and formulaic action scenes as gimmicks that can’t hide this movie’s lazy banality.

Directed by Shawn Levy and written by Matt Lieberman and Zak Penn, “Free Guy” was obviously made to appeal to video game enthusiasts as a target audience. However, because video games have progressed immensely since the early years of SimCity—especially when it comes to world building, visual effects and multilayered outcomes—much of the video game that’s at the center of “Free Guy” looks simplistic and boring. The only real nod to 21st century gaming that this movie has is that people worldwide have the ability to play the game simultaneously over the Internet.

The video game in “Free Guy” is called Free City, which is about a simulated city called Free City that’s supposed to be a mid-sized American city where chaos and destruction can happen at any moment. (“Free Guy” was actually filmed in Boston.) Players of Free City get more points and can advance to the next level (also known as “leveling up”), based on acts of unprovoked hostility and violence that they can put in the game.

Every day, an armed robbery takes place at Free City Bank. This financial institution is the place of employment for cheerful bank teller Guy (played by Ryan Reynolds) and his wisecracking best friend Buddy (played by Lil Rel Howery), who’s a security guard. It’s a scenario that plays out with such routine predictability that Guy has come to expect it.

Guy, who is the voiceover narrator and protagonist of the movie, explains that in Free City, laws are like “mild suggestions.” The “heroes” in Free City can be identified by wearing special eyeglasses. Later, Guy finds out what happens when someone in Free City puts on these special eyeglasses. But in the beginning of the movie, Guy is just a character that’s supposed to stick to the same routine every day.

Guy is stuck in a rut and doesn’t even know it at first. When he wakes up in the morning, he says and does the same things. When he goes to a local coffee shop before heading to work, he places the same order: coffee with cream and two spoons of sugar. Guy is the type of character who says, “Coffee: It’s like losing my virginity, but in my mouth.”

Almost everyone in Free City has a daily routine. The city is so basic that there are no tourist attractions, and anyone who doesn’t have the special eyeglasses is just supposed to fade into the background. In other words, whoever thought up this video game has terrible world building skills and gave the players very limited options what they could do. In this city, people are either aggressors or potential targets for that aggression.

However, one day, Guy’s life takes an unexpected turn. At the local coffee shop, he orders a cappuccino instead of his usual coffee with cream and sugar. The barista named Missy (played by Britne Oldford), who always serves the same order to Guy, freaks out because she doesn’t know what to do because Guy has ordered cappuccino.

On that same day, when the bank robbery occurs at Guy’s job, instead of handing over money to the robber, Guy gets into a fight with the thief, takes the thief’s gun, and shoots the thief. During the altercation, Guy takes the thief’s special eyeglasses. And that’s when Guy can see and experience Free City in a whole different way. He immediately notices that when he wears the glasses, he has superhuman strength and things appear in his sight that he wouldn’t be able to see without wearing the glasses.

While wearing the glasses, Guy sees a medical bag floating in front of him. And when he takes the bag, the wounds he sustained during the bank robbery fight (such as cuts, bruises and a broken nose) are automatically healed. When Guy goes to an ATM to get money from his bank account, he sees that the money he had in the account (less than $150) has turned into thousands of dollars, because the ATM now acts like a jackpot machine.

Meanwhile, Guy has “infatuation at first sight” when he sees a mysterious woman (played by Jodie Comer) on a motorcycle and armed with a gun on the street. She wears the special eyeglasses. She seems to be independent and fearless. And she’s wearing an outfit (white button-down shirt with black trousers, suspenders and thigh-high boots) that looks like a costume rejected by Charlize Theron’s badass assassin character in 2017’s “Atomic Blonde.”

Guy is convinced that this mystery female on a motorcycle is the woman of his dreams. Guy and this woman eventually meet. She calls herself Molotov Girl, but she’s really a British avatar for an American video game developer named Millie Rusk. Molotov Girl wears her black hair worn in a bob, while Millie has long blonde hair.

In the real world, Millie is embroiled in a messy lawsuit with Soonami Studios, the video game company that released Free City, a game that has become a big hit for Soonami. Millie is suing because she claims that Soonami stole intellectual property that is the basis of Free City. Back in 2015, Millie and her former business partner Walter “Keys” McKeys (played by Joe Keery) were considered hot up-and-coming video game developers of a game called Life Itself.

Soonami’s greedy and corrupt founder/CEO named Antwan (played by Taika Waititi) bought the rights to Life Itself (one of the most boring video game titles in history) for Soonami, and then promptly shelved Life Itself, only to release the game under the name Free City. Why isn’t Keys suing Soonami too? Because he now works for Soonami as a programmer, but he spends much of his work time actually being a customer support representative. Keys’ best friend at the company is a coder with a sarcastic personality named Mouser (played by Utkarsh Ambudkar), who worships Antwan and does pretty much anything Antwan tells Mouser to do.

Why is Millie spending so much time playing Free City using the avatar Molotov Girl? Because she secretly wants to find certain proof that the game has the intellectual property that was stolen from Millie and Keys. Meanwhile, Guy becomes emboldened by his newfound powers due to the special eyeglasses. He starts doing things (many of them heroic) of his own free will, and his character becomes a worldwide sensation. Free City game players around the world have given him the nickname Blue Shirt Guy because of the blue shirt that Guy wears to work every day.

Not everyone is a fan of Blue Shirt Guy, of course. Antwan is furious because he thinks Blue Shirt Guy is a major “bug” (or error) in the game. There’s a kind of a silly sequence of Keys and Mouser disguising themselves with avatars to go into the Free City game and to try find out why Guy, a non-player character (also known as an NPC), seems to be acting of his own free will. Keys is dressed as a cop, while Mouser is dressed up in a ridiculous-looking pink rabbit costume. Why is Mouser dressed like he’s at a kids’ costume party? Just because he felt like it.

In fact, much of “Free Guy” consists of half-baked ideas thrown in between the hackneyed action scenes. There’s a stretched-out subplot about getting to a certain person’s stash house. There’s another subplot about how Soonami is about to release a Free City sequel called Free City: Carnage (also known as Free City 2), so there’s a race against time involving the release date.

The budding romance between Guy and Molotov Girl looks kind of icky because he comes across more like her dorky, much-older brother rather than a potential boyfriend. Guy is in his 40s, while Molotov Girl/Millie is in her 20s. It’s yet another Hollywood movie where the male lead actor gets a female love interest who’s at least 15 to 20 years younger.

In an attempt to gloss over this big age difference, there’s monotonous repetition of how Guy and Millie have some superficial things in common. They both love Mariah Carey’s 1995 hit song “Fantasy,” bubblegum ice cream and playing on swings. How old are these people again? Twelve? “Fantasy” is played enough times in the movie that it will get stuck in your head after the movie is over. And that’s not a good thing if you don’t like the song.

“Free Guy” is yet another Hollywood action movie where the cast members who get top billing are several men and only one woman. Comer is the only woman with a significant speaking role in the movie, and her Moltov Girl/Millie character is severely underdeveloped. Moltovgirl/Millie doesn’t have a life outside of anything to do with how the male characters affect her.

The featured male characters in “Free Guy” have friends and/or co-workers, while Millie does not. And the movie tries to make Millie look like some kind of feminist gaming prodigy, but everything she’s shown accomplishing in this movie is because she got help from a man. People who are fans of Comer because of her stellar, Emmy-winning work in “Killing Eve” will be disappointed at how limited her character is in “Free Guy.” The character of Millie, just like Molotov Girl, is just a hollow avatar who was created to be a sidekick for a male character who gets most of the glory.

As for Keys, he is portrayed as a wimpy and shy “nice guy.” But looking at his actions, Keys really has dubious morals and shaky loyalty, because he will go along with anyone who will benefit him in some way. He betrayed Millie by working for their enemy, and he doesn’t support her in her lawsuit to get justice for all the hard work that they did. And to make matters worse, Keys wasn’t even given a lofty position at Soonami. He’s now essentially a low-paid customer service representative at Soonami, where he is treated like dirt by rude and condescending Antwan.

It’s supposed to make viewers feel sorry for Keys, because the company is wasting his talent. But it just makes Keys look like a fool who’s being taken advantage of because his own bad choices. There are other companies he could work for besides the one that screwed over Keys and Millie. But if he worked for another company, there wouldn’t be the predictable “inside man” plot development that you know is part of this movie. There’s a trite character arc for Keys that’s extremely phony and doesn’t feel deserved.

There are fundamental plot holes in “Free Guy,” because it’s obvious that the filmmakers don’t want anyone watching the movie to think too much. For example, if Free City is so popular worldwide, and the point of the game is for players to create as much violent chaos as possible in Free City, then there would be a lot more death and destruction in Free City than what’s presented in this movie. Free City looks too pristine and orderly, as if hardly anyone is playing this game, which contradicts the movie’s premise that Free City is supposed to be a worldwide hit.

Much of the plot is based on Millie’s lawsuit against Soonami, but “Free Guy” purposely keeps things vague. Don’t expect any mention of the fact that it’s very common for corporations to buy the rights to intellectual property from independent creators and then just shelve it. And buying the rights also means buying any patents associated with the intellectual property and the right to release the intellectual property under a new name. In all likelihood in the real world, Millie doesn’t have a legitimate case for her lawsuit.

“Free Guy” also muddles the logic of how Millie needs to be an avatar in a video game in order to find the coding proof that she needs. Any good computer programmer/video game developer would have kept that coding proof, even after the intellectual property had been sold. But this movie isn’t about being realistic or logical. And that’s excusable if the characters and story had been much better than the unimaginative stereotypes and uninspired dialogue in “Free Guy.”

Keery and Ambudkar play the typical video game nerds. Howery plays the typical loyal best friend. Waititi plays the typical over-the-top villain. Waititi, who is naturally funny, tries to do his best with terrible lines of dialogue, but even he can’t overcome how stilted and awkward everyone looks in what are supposed to be hilarious scenes.

Reynolds has done plenty of action films and comedies where his character starts out as an underdog and then becomes a celebrated hero. It’s all so mind-numbingly monotonous, because he doesn’t do anything new as an actor in “Free Guy,” which is far from his best movie. The stale jokes in “Free Guy” seem like they were programmed by a computer from the 1990s.

The movie’s action scenes and visual effects are so basic and forgettable. One of the “Free Guy” trailers revealed that Guy fights a giant He-Man-ripoff version of himself, so this trailer reveal ruins that surprise. There are a few “surprise” celebrity cameos in the movie that don’t have much of an impact. Channing Tatum pops up in a scene, but he wears out his welcome with his one-note character. Chris Evans has a cameo that lasts a few seconds and should get some quick laughs.

“Free Guy” (from 20th Century Studios) is such a soulless and corporate movie that it has shameless plugging of movies from other Disney-owned studios. There’s “Star Wars”-influenced light saber fighting, in a nod to Disney-owned Lucasfilm. And there’s a reference to Captain America, the superhero character that Evans portrayed in several movies from Disney-owned Marvel Studios. No references to Disney princesses though, because the filmmakers of “Free Guy” want men to dominate in this movie.

Movies like 1982’s “Tron” and 2018’s “Ready Player One” have shown how it’s possible to be creative in a movie about people who transport themselves into a video game and end up having real connections with characters in the game. “Free Guy” could have brought a clever comedic spin to this concept, but the movie is just a messy compilation of lousy jokes and garbled plot developments. There are lot of video games that are better than a junkpile movie like “Free Guy.”

20th Century Studios will release “Free Guy” in U.S. cinemas on August 13, 2021.

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