At The Movies: Free Guy is boisterous; The Medium is gripping

In Free Guy, Guy (Ryan Reynolds) is a non-player character, or NPC, in the world of Free City. PHOTO: THE WALT DISNEY COMPANY

SINGAPORE - The movies reviewed this week are action comedy Free Guy and horror flick The Medium.

Free Guy (PG13)

115 minutes, opens Aug 12

2 stars

Big, boisterous action comedies not based on an existing brand are rare these days, when superhero movies and their sequels have swallowed every studio budget.

This return to the days of Night At The Museum (2002) and Tropic Thunder (2008) is welcome, if only because it shows that artistic courage has not fled Hollywood completely.

The connection to Night At The Museum is more than a coincidence. Free Guy's director, Shawn Levy, helmed Night and its two sequels (released in 2009 and 2014) and a great deal of that DNA is carried over. For example, in the plot, a nine-to-five worker bee plunged into a world of wackiness but guided by a desire to do right, becomes a hero.

Guy (Ryan Reynolds) is a non-player character, or NPC, in the world of Free City, a video game that combines driving with killing other players with guns and bombs. Unaware of his NPC status, Guy loves his job as a bank teller, despite facing daily raids by god-like robbers who, unlike his kind, are delightfully unpredictable, though violently destructive. He becomes dissatisfied with his routine-bound existence, a feeling that grows after he spots the dazzling Molotov Girl (Jodie Comer) on the streets of Free City.

It is easy enough to guess what happens next, but the story's predictability is worsened by a message that smugly defines drone work as any job that sets rules and routines for employees. Easter eggs for gamers and large-scale but weightless action set pieces fill out the rest of the running time.

While there are a couple of big, goofy moments of visual comedy -a muscle-bound giant assassin and a final boss game character among them - the jokes come mostly from the riffing of Reynolds and film-maker-actor Taika Waititi, who plays the villainous game company owner Antwan.

The trouble with letting a gifted comedian like Waititi take over for a minute is that he is so good, he makes the rest of the movie look average.

The Medium (M18)

The Medium stars Narilya Gulmongkolpech (right) and Sawanee Utoomma. PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE

131 minutes, opens Aug 12

4 stars

This Thai-Korean horror co-production has an interesting backstory. It is set in Thailand and directed by Banjong Pisanthanakun, who had a hand in helming horror hits Shutter (2004), 4bia (2008) and the comedy-tinged Pee Mak (2013). But its co-writer and co-producer is South Korean film-maker Na Hong-jin, best known for directing the acclaimed crime thriller The Chaser (2008).

Na's Korean screenplay, with its Korean setting and characters, were rewritten to be Thai after he decided to go into production with Banjong.

The result of the cross-cultural pollination is this creepily atmospheric story rooted in the animistic traditions of the Isan people of Thailand's north-eastern region. The film is set up as a documentary, a study of Nim (Sawanee Utoomma), an Isan shaman. Nim learns that her niece Mink (Narilya Gulmongkolpech) is showing bizarre behaviour, which at first is taken to mean that the younger woman has the makings of a shaman.

This is a horror work that commits fully to its premise. From early on, viewers are plunged into a world of angry gods and angrier demons, all living in a region rippling with primal energy emanating from caves, forests and abandoned buildings.

That in-your-face physicality - one that includes some gore and nudity - is compromised by the found-footage conceit, a format which feels increasingly contrived and unnecessary as the story moves forward.

The film's powerful sense of place, however, makes up for its narrative shortcomings.

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