This weekend at the movies, we’ve got self-aware video game heroes (Free Guy, starring Ryan Reynolds and Jodie Comer), the Queen of Soul (Respect, starring Jennifer Hudson and Forest Whitaker), and a Cold War spy (Don’t Breathe 2, starring Stephen Lang and Madelyn Grace). What are the critics saying?
Free Guy (2021)
After enduring setbacks as large as a studio merger and a worldwide pandemic, Free Guy is finally here, and according to the reviews, it’s absolutely worth the wait. Ryan Reynolds stars in this meta action-comedy as Guy, an everyman bank teller in a video game called “Free City” who is content to respawn every day as an NPC (non-player character). Unbeknownst to him, a couple of rogue programmers (Jodie Comer, Joe Keery) in the real world are in open rebellion against the game’s new corporate owner (Taika Waititi), and the extra code they implement in the game makes Guy self-aware; thus begins his journey from regular dude to world-saving hero. It’s probably safe to say that few people expected this film to be anything more than a mild diversion, but Free Guy has become the surprise of the summer, with critics calling it a relentlessly optimistic, laugh-out-loud funny comedy that lovingly pokes fun at gamer culture but offers enough entertainment value for video game agnostics. It may not hit all of its targets, but it’s goofy, earnest, action-packed, and hilarious, which feels pretty spot-on for a summer movie success.
Musical biopics have always been a Hollywood staple, but it feels like there’s been a sudden uptick in them over the past few years, particularly with the success of Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman. Films about artists like Elvis, the Bee Gees, Bod Dylan, and Madonna are on the way, among others, but before we get there, we have this look at the life and career of Aretha Franklin, aptly titled Respect. Jennifer Hudson stars as the Queen of Soul as the film follows the iconic singer’s upbringing as a member of her father’s church choir and her rise to stardom as she endured an abusive marriage. Critics say Hudson shines in the role imbuing Franklin with the appropriate strength and charisma, but the story surrounding her performance is just a tad too boilerplate to transcend the limitations of its genre. Overall, it’s an appropriately respectful tribute that plays it a little safe and predictable, but Hudson is a joy to watch and worth the price of admission.
Don't Breathe 2 (2021)
In 2016, writer-director Fede Álvarez (Evil Dead) had a surprise hit with the gnarly thriller Don’t Breathe, which followed a hapless gang of would-be burglars who pick the wrong house to rob. A sequel has been quietly brewing ever since, and, like many other releases, Don’t Breathe 2 hits theaters this week after a coronavirus-related production delay. This time around, co-writer Rodo Sayagues takes up the helm, catching up with Stephen Lang’s blind Army vet Norman Nordstrom several years after the first film. The previously solitary Norman now has a young protégé named Phoenix (Madelyn Grace), and when another group of intruders comes calling, more dark secrets are unveiled. Critics say this new chapter is sufficiently gory and devilish, and it takes some unexpected turns, but it also gets a little outlandish and makes a few distasteful choices that may not sit well with some viewers. If you enjoyed the first film, you’ll probably find entertainment value here, but broadly appealing this is not.
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