Free Guy

Guy in a war zone

An update on the Truman Show idea, Free Guy follows a Non Player Character in a game – the ones who get shot at or driven into in shoot-em-ups and driver games – who starts to get an inkling of what he is. Ryan Reynolds plays the guy called Guy – he’s got a buddy called Buddy (played by Lil Rel Howery, en route to stardom) – in this immensely smart and fairly funny CG-heavy actioner full of great talent in front of and behind the camera.

Not as funny as Deadpool, though it’s not aiming for quickfire quippery, there’s a thoughtful and meditative aspect to Free Guy and its ruminations on artificial intelligence and consciousness that set it apart from other “guys in a game” movies like Ready Player One or Tron: Legacy.

In the world Guy inhabits there are two kinds of people – while Guy goes to work in a bank every day, there are other people, “sunglasses people”, who seem to do all the unusual stuff. If it’s skydiving, or driving tanks over parked cars, or crashing a flaming helicopter into the side of a building, it’s the sunglasses people who are doing it. That’s because the sunglasses people are avatars of actual gamers sitting out in their bedrooms in the real world, while NPCs like Guy’s only function is to help make more real the open world game that they’re playing in.

And then Guy has his epiphany, sparked by contact with a passing woman (Jodie Comer) who stirs something deep within him. Suddenly on a quest to be the sort of person the badass Molotovgirl might go for, Guy grabs a pair of sunglasses off one of the player avatars and commences his Pinocchio-like climb towards being a real human, largely done in a Groundhog Day-style flashby montage.

Jodie Comer as Molotovgirl
Jodie Comer as Molotovgirl



Out in the real world, meanwhile, Molotovgirl goes by the name of Millie and is also on a quest, to prove that the code for the game she co-wrote with spoddy but handsome Keys (Joe Keery) was stolen by tech uberlord Antwan (Taika Waititi) and is being used as the template/engine for Free City, the game Guy inhabits. In a pincer movement, the sweet and cute Millie investigates from without, ignoring the imploring eyes of Keys, while as Molotovgirl she continues her search from within, getting to know Guy and, Ryan Reynolds being Ryan Reynolds, falling for him.

And also, this being a Ryan Reynolds movie, the pop culture references keep on coming, and include cameos from the likes of Channing Tatum and Chris Evans, a Star Wars moment involving a lightsabre, homages to Mariah Carey, a clear reference to Mae West’s gag “Is that a pistol in your pocket or are you just glad to see me,” while the action is served up fast and furious by Shawn Levy, with Comer’s fight sequences particularly well co-ordinated.

It is a particularly clever movie that wears its intelligence lightly. Some of it is very familiar – Guy is a variation on the familiar Reynolds character, one threatening to break the fourth wall at any point, while Molotovgirl resembles Comer’s Villanelle character from the TV show Killing Eve. The gamers are nerdy and play at home in their bedrooms, and Waititi is also now a recognisable trope – the evil tech magnate – but he’s puts his own spin on it, as a middle aged man tryharding like hell in a youthful industry. A Bond villain slot could be his one day.

Could Artificial Intelligence achieve self-awareness? Is there more to life than code? Is there a ghost in the machine? Is Millie in fact God? And, coming slightly from left-field, shouldn’t all the NPCs get together and organise for better terms and conditions? There are big questions hidden inside what looks like a big Christmas present of a film, all winking lights and shiny surfaces. The CG work – most of the film must have been green-screened – is superb and will never date, because it’s meant to look like video-game reality (my son, who codes games, tells me they’re now “just called ‘games’, Dad”) rather than reality-reality. Which is handy, because it’s a film that’s worth watching and rewatching – for the stuff off to the side of the frame, and the cameos, both the obvious ones (Evans, Tatum) and the ones the cast list insists are there (Dwayne Johnson, Hugh Jackman, Tina Fey) but are less obvious.





Free Guy – Watch it/buy it at Amazon



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© Steve Morrissey 2021









The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard

Ryan Reynolds, Salma Hayek and Samuel L Jackson

There’s an extended version and a moviehouse version of The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard. I watched the longer one, which seemed padded by about 15 minutes, which is exactly the amount of time that the extended version has been extended by. So if you’re after a more concentrated hit of action comedy – or don’t have long left to live…

If you really don’t have long left to live, and feel the need for knockabout fun, you don’t need to waste time by watching the first film in order to enjoy this second one. That was a poacher-versus-gamekeeper tale – a hitman (Samuel L Jackson in “motherfucker” mode), an over-cautious bodyguard (Ryan Reynolds in quippy Deadpool mode) and the hitman’s wife (Salma Hayek), all spun through various comic-book life-threatening situations, Darius Kincaid (Jackson) and Michael Bryce (Reynolds) amusingly not seeing eye to eye, while Hayek’s Sonia Kincaid alternately made jokes about her breasts or tried to straddle her screen husband.

Like Red 2, the film about superannuated spies, this is a better film than the original. It’s funnier, faster paced (ignoring the extra 15 mins of the extended cut), gives more screen time to the “batshit crazy” Sonia and generally lets its stars get on and do more of their thing, as Red 2 did. There are many jokes about the characters’ age, and with a subplot about Sonia and Darius trying to have a baby, there needs to be, since at the first mention of the idea you’re likely to think, “Hang on a second, how old is Salma Hayek exactly?” Answer: 55 when this was made. And I’ll have what she’s having.

This is the sort of film that doesn’t have one evil gang boss driving the action but several – including a thrown away (again) Gary Oldman – but over all of them is the superbad megalomaniac mastermind Antonio Banderas as a Greek shipping magnate who has been driven to despicable dastardliness by the latest actions of the European Union against his country, “the cradle of civilisation”. He’s your crypto-gay loquacious Bond-villain style of bad guy who loves a flounce and a flick of the hair – “like Liberace banged a set of curtains,” as Bryce puts it when he first claps eyes on him.

Darius and Michael
Downtime: Darius and Michael



Don’t worry about the EU reference. There is no real political content once the setup has been set up and the wagon’s begun to roll. It’s James Bond/Fast & Furious action set pieces plus quips, mostly handled with skill by director Patrick Hughes and with lots of funny gags by writer Tom O’Connor, who’s more sure-footed on spoof thriller territory than handling the real thing (see The Courier, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, a fairly pedestrian spy drama, which he also wrote).

There is absolutely no need to follow the plot. And because the sunny, tourist-brochure locations are fabulous – much of it was shot in Croatia, but it’s Italy (Portofino, Capri, Florence) that’s more obviously up in the mix – you could watch it almost as a travelogue.

As well as an almost dismissively used Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman is in it, for a few minutes. So is Richard E Grant, for a funny few seconds. Frank Grillo gets enough space to be large as one of those angry testosterone-filled cops working for Interpol and really wishing he could be back home, or have a SWAT team and choppers to enhance his own prestige. He catches the mood of the almost insane self-love of the other characters perfectly, slots right in and, really, I was wishing that the extra 15 minutes in the extended version were an extra 15 minutes of Grillo. I don’t think they were.

A Mercedes van ker-chunks down a flight of street stairs. Tina Turner turns up on the soundtrack singing Simply the Best. There’s a replay of that car-radio joke from Deadpool, except this time it’s a jukebox that changes song every time a head is whapped into it. Banderas gets to say, “Find the fugitives. Kill them.” There is a slo-mo explosion sequence with people fleeing ahead of the fireball. I’m telling you these things but you already know they happen because that’s the sort of film this is. Saturday night sorted.



The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2021









Smokin’ Aces

Alicia Keys in Smokin' Aces

 

 

For anyone who gets confused between Ben Affleck and Ryan Reynolds, Joe (Narc) Carnahan’s latest feast of bang-bang macho will be very bewildering indeed, since they’re both in it. But then bewilderment seems to be what Smokin’ Aces is about. The hip-feast is built around Jeremy Piven, playing Buddy “Aces” Israel, a Las Vegas showman and stool pigeon whose decision to turn state’s evidence has signed his death warrant. Enter just about everybody else – either part of his close-knit retinue, part of the FBI team trying to protect him, one of the mob out to get him, or one of the other guys who also, confusingly, seem out to get him. Girls too, not just guys, since it’s Alicia Keys and Taraji Henson – a faintly lesbionic duo – who get some of the best of the weapons-assist screentime. It’s a busy, touchingly old-fashioned drama – the whiplash Guy Ritchie camera trickery, the timewasting, jivetalking Tarantino dialogue. If you’re watching at home the subtitles make things a lot more easy to follow, though the plot is still verging on the impenetrable – someone’s been reading Raymond Chandler, obviously. And how about Andy Garcia and Ray Liotta as cops? Carnahan is clearly having a laugh. I entirely enjoyed it. But then I was watching this live-action cartoon with one eye shut.

© Steve Morrissey 2006

 

Smokin’ Aces – at Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

Ryan Reynolds and the Death of the Real Man

All aboard Ryan Reynolds, prime example of Hollywood’s new breed of depilated, exfoliated, irrigated masculine star. Whatever happened to real men?

From out of the low, strong sun, three figures ride towards the camera, tall in the saddle, squinting into the wind. As they hit medium shot, John Wayne turns to the compadre on his left and parts the lips on his line-free face to reveal two rows of snowy white teeth. Meanwhile the man he is about to address, Clint Eastwood, has thrown aside his poncho to reveal a shirt unbuttoned to the waist, his tan, hairless chest cresting sensually towards what might or might not be a nipple ring. And on Clint’s left, Lee Marvin is sucking urgently on a bottle of Volvic in an attempt to stay hydrated.

This is clearly not how the West was won.

Once upon a time in the movies men were men and women tried to stay upwind of them. Yup, the leading men of yore were a different breed. They didn’t ostentatiously work out. They didn’t swear off carbs after 6pm. They didn’t appear in gender-swap rom-coms. In fact it’s unlikely John Wayne knew what a gender-swap rom-com was. Or a carb. As to Bogie, Cagney, Jimmy Stewart or Steve McQueen, it’s difficult to imagine any of them starring in a movie where the plot revolved around someone having to pretend to be gay in order to… oh, you know, keep the movie moving until 89 minutes of ironic homophobic hilarity had finally worn itself out.

Rotate 180 degrees from John Wayne and we’re facing the leading man of today: Ryan Reynolds. The star of Van Wilder: Party Animal, co-star of Blade: Trinity, Smokin’ Aces and now The Proposal, Sandra Bullock’s comeback bid. Typical of the new leading man, Reynolds is pretty in a slightly pinheaded, boss-eyed way. He has an impressive cleavage and is happy to talk about how hard it is to activate the lower abs.

After Blade: Trinity Reynolds, like many a new leading man, went home with an impressive bod, honed by months of personal training, strict diet and hard work. Compare that with old leading man Humphrey Bogart. Bald, ageing and kranky he may have been, but after making To Have and Have Not, Bogie also went home with an impressive bod, that of his 19-year-old co-star Lauren Bacall.

Old leading men drank bourbon or whisky, new leading men do Whey Protein Shakes. Old leading men smoked AND inhaled. New leading men do conjugated linoleic acid, have a Macmillan Nurse head-tilt, puppy-dog eyes and pecs that wouldn’t look out of place with a tassle on.

Where’s that spittoon?

In some respects there is nothing new here. The world has always had actors with non-threatening, boyband looks. Rudolph Valentino might have been the first. But since then you can trace the unbroken, hairless line through Leslie Howard, Tyrone Power and James Dean to Keanu, Johnny, Tom and, king of the girls, Brad Pitt.

It’s also always had out and out meatheads too, who don’t so much act as just stand there (Victor Mature and Charles Bronson to Bruce Willis, Arnie and Chuck Norris).

Between these pole were the real stars – Errol Flynn, Clark Gable, John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart, James Stewart and so on. Instinctive actors who played effortlessly masculine men who knew which end of a woman did what. By rights Reynolds should be in this camp too. Being married to Scarlett Johansson should grant him automatic admission, you’d have thought. But Hollywood’s current feyness is dragging him towards the realm of the eunuch while his stylist and trainer drag him the other way, towards the sort of hell that’s Dolph Lundgren all the way down.

Though Bogie was almost outdone by Katharine Hepburn in The African Queen and Eastwood fought hard against Shirley MacLaine in Two Mules for Sister Sara, it’s almost impossible to imagine any of the old leading men playing second banana to Jessica Biel as Reynolds did in Blade: Trinity. Or to Sandra Bullock, as Reynolds does again in the The Proposal – a sparky rom-com in which Bullock plays a bitch in a fix who orders her assistant to marry her. While Reynolds plays the bitch who says he will.

Old leading men dressed like there were more important things to think about than their clothes. Like winning the Second World War. “Male grooming product” was a dab of Brylcreem or possibly even axle grease. Would “body fat percentage” have meant anything to John Wayne? And as for dental bleaching… the hell he will.

This thousand-crunches-before-breakfast business is genuinely impressive. And the new leading men are paid handsomely to do them. But in their white singlets, cut just a bit lower than the ones you get at Gap, and with their palms facing backwards, bodies turned three quarters to the camera, dressed in cargo pants and razor-slashed top, the leading men of today run the risk of being mistaken for Britney.

As in look, so in plot. In film after film Reynolds is bitch-slapped by women tougher, smarter, ballsier than himself. Bullock’s pet in The Proposal, Biel’s little helper in bloodsucking bore Blade: Trinity, Reynolds also has rings run round him by Amy Smart in Just Friends. That’s the one in which he plays the “hero” with weight issues, low self-esteem and a bag of other women’s magazine staples. And in the pointless remake of the already pointless The Amityville Horror, Reynolds is once again the girl to Melissa George’s tough nut, charging round hysterically and becoming increasingly axe-fixated in what looks to the casual observer like a bad attack of PMS.

The thing about Reynolds is: he actually can act. He’s incredibly good in three separate roles in The Nines and in film after film is consistently better than his material. Then why so wet when he’s hot and genuinely talented? It can’t be just because he’s from Canada.

Reynolds is clearly symptomatic of a wider malaise. Take Daniel Craig – the “blond Bond” as he was dismissively dubbed until everyone remembered that he actually has dramatic range, unlike his predecessors. Craig also has lead in his pencil – Francis Bacon’s bit of rough trade in Love Is The Devil, a lusty stud in The Mother, blunt Yorkshire poet Ted Hughes in Sylvia, Sienna Miller’s entirely plausible love in Layer Cake, an Israeli hit squad member in Steven Spielberg’s Munich. But let’s not forget Craig’s kingmaking moment as the new Bond. He was not only the sixth incarnation of 007 but also the third iteration, after Ursula Andress and Halle Berry, of the impressively chested sea-deity rising in slo-mo up out of the spume to cries of “look at the rack on that”.

Or take Matthew McConaughey. Somebody. A fine actor who was hotter than the face of the sun when he appeared in John Sayles’s indie jewel Lone Star in 1996, McC immediately abandoned high-tone product and set off to become a Hollywood star, misplacing his testicles along the way. It started with a lace collar in Amistad (not conclusive proof in a period drama but a sign nonetheless). Two years on and he was in EdTV, a budget-traveller Truman Show which saw McC perfecting his Valley Girl whine. Two years further on and he’s in The Wedding Planner with J-Lo and the transformation is complete – from grungey promising talent to a loose collection of abs, pecs, simpering smile and orange skin who’s made a career out of playing pussy (How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Failure to Launch, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past).

And on to the hardest sell of all – Hugh Jackman, a talented all-rounder who at first glance has kept faith with masculinity, having played the tangled mass of testosterone and chest hair that is the X-Men’s Wolverine a total of four times. A man who’s bench-pressed 315 pounds, everybody. A man who’s also played a character called The Drover, essence of XY chromosome, in Baz Luhrmann’s Australia. It surely does not get any more grrrr than that.

Hats (and shirts) off to Huge. Clearly he’s the most ripped actor there’s ever been, bigger and more impressive even than Christian Bale (a character actor suffering from the terrible delusion that he’s a leading man). And yet and yet and yet. All this posing around in a slashed white T shirt looking up through your lashes, the obsession with body fat, the diet of cottage cheese (slow-release, low-fat protein, if you will), the fixation on hydration, the best-buddy personal trainer, the running along the beach like Bo Derek (younger readers: count yourselves lucky). You can’t imagine James Coburn doing any of it.

And let’s not forget Wolverine’s nails.

Where are the modern equivalents of Errol Flynn, Clark Gable or John Wayne? Where, for that matter are the replacements for ageing heroes Mel Gibson and Denzel Washington? Have we become so metrosexual that the nearest thing we have is fragrant George Clooney? Is this dicklessness a cultural response to an overpopulated planet? A symptom of the developed world’s increasing disinclination to reproduce? Put simply, is the only real red-blooded A lister in Hollywood Russell Crowe?

Until the answers to this needlessly long string of questions, or some real men, turn up, why don’t we head on over to the saloon, push through the swing doors and order a bottle of whiskey, pour a glass, raise it to lips. And repeat. From a distance it might look like a workout.



The Deadpool Double Pack, starring Ryan Reynolds – Buy it at Amazon


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© Steve Morrissey 2009