Ryan Reynolds says Mariah Carey's Fantasy is new film's 'engine'

Free Guy is out in UAE cinemas this weekend

by David Light

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Published: Tue 10 Aug 2021, 3:19 AM

Justin has his Beliebers, Taylor enjoys legions of Swifties and 1D used to take care of their Directioners. The collective nouns given to superstars’ fans can occasionally be esoteric, though the constant adulation emanating from the groups cannot be underestimated. And when it comes to legendary diva Mariah Carey, the All I Want For Christmas Is You singer counts a very famous name among the ranks of her “Lambs”.

“Mariah Carey’s Fantasy just came like a lightning bolt. It was like an engine for so much of the movie... I am a total Lamb,” Ryan Reynolds said when City Times dropped in for a virtual chat about his upcoming release, Free Guy. 1995 album Daydream’s lead single; it is clear to see why the instantly recognisable Fantasy resonated. Typifying the modern Reynolds comedy action film, the canon of which includes the wildly successful anti-superhero franchise Deadpool (2016), the track’s upbeat saccharine tempo transposed over comic book violence embodies Free Guy’s over-arching tone portraying a naïve computer game character’s emergence into consciousness and the realisation of the nature of the world around him.

Guy (Reynolds) is a bank teller at Free City Bank who lives a simple existence. He exudes positivity and cheerful optimism and is always up for a good cup of coffee. Like his best friend, Buddy (Lil Rel Howery), he has a zest for life but all that changes when Guy discovers he is actually a background player in the ultra-intense, open-world video game ‘Free City.’

Distributed by Soonami Studios, which is run by the greedy mogul Antwan (Taika Waititi), Free City is a programme where chaos and devastation reign. Players live an unabashed existence within the online realm and level-up by committing unprovoked acts of hostility and vandalism. Guy meets and is immediately smitten with Molotovgirl (Jodie Comer), who helps him navigate the levels and come to terms with the fact that the only life he has known is not real. Molotovgirl, whose name in the real world is Millie, has a bone to pick with Soonami, as she believes Antwan took the codes from a game she and her friend, Soonami programmer Keys (Joe Keery), sold the company. As Guy begins to take on a more active role as a good person — an idealist in a cynical world where there are no limits — he becomes a champion for both the players and the other NPC’s (nonplayable characters). Guy’s popularity continues to grow and Antwan, realising the serious threat he poses to the future of Free City and, more specifically, its sequel Free City: Carnage, deploys Keys and a Soonami coder named Mouser (Utkarsh Ambudkar) to permanently remove Guy from the game.

“My default is just pure trash”

We first caught a glimpse of Free Guy’s trailer in late 2019. As a result of the pandemic its release date has been pushed three times from July 2020 to this weekend. Though, Reynolds believes it is just the sort of film required as the world emerges into the light from the dark of recent times as a result of the plot’s joviality.

“There’s a movie that I love called Being There starring Peter Sellers,” he said. “And that was the foothold I had into this character and this world. There’s something really wonderful about playing a character who’s innocent. He’s a four-year-old adult. My default is just pure trash, you know, on the inside,” Reynolds added with a splash of typical self-deprecation.

It is this awareness which has seen the actor blessed with traditional leading man looks not just be accepted in the comedy sphere, but actively sought-after. You only need peruse adverts for his drinks brand on YouTube to bear witness to a true comic performer. It didn’t take long for the next joke to land. When asked how important it was for the production to accurately represent gaming culture, Reynolds was at pains to placate the digital entertainment admirers, yet fell short of comparing it to actual video game films such as Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) or the now infamous Super Mario Bros. (1993) which enjoy a chequered history at best.

“Everybody sort of said, ‘oh, this is a movie based on a video game.’ It’s like saying Titanic is a movie about boatsmanship. Uh, it’s not. It’s a movie about so much more. We created a world that felt authentic to gamers and then sort of smuggled this other story in.”

Creating a new dimension

An aspiring author once enquired about the most difficult type of screenplay to sell in Hollywood. An anonymous and probably apocryphal writer replied: “anything new.” Bringing a film to the big screen is no mean feat, but one without an already active fan base to mitigate the studio’s financial gamble is now practically extinct. Reynolds elaborated: “It’s hard to make something that isn’t based on a pre-existing IP, a comic book or a sequel in some regard. It’s very challenging.

“You get the script to a place that you feel is perfect, and then you have to make it 30 per cent better somehow because you don’t have any pre-existing knowledge or fans and you really have to go out there and prove it the old-fashioned way. It continues to be nerve wracking, even now as we’re done and entering the world.”

Onto the next one

Early Free Guy reviews have been promising, which led to the inevitable question about a sequel. While it is too early for a solid green light, Reynolds was optimistic.

“We all hope that we get to do this again,” he said. If it means we can don our “Reynolds’ Rebels” T-Shirts and speak to the artist once more, so do we.

If you could live in a game for a day, what would it be?

Ryan: I loved Mike Tyson’s Punch Out as a kid. I used to quote it: “back in the fight, back in the fight!” I have three older brothers, so there were constant messy stabbing deaths all over my house all the time. But, if I had to really pick a game... I know this is unexpected, or maybe it’s expected, but I would actually like to be in Free City. I know it’s not a real video game, but the video game that we’ve created; I like the colours and the vibes in there. I know it’s a dangerous as hell place to live!

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