For several years, Shawn Levy has focused his efforts on television. The filmmaker has most recently been best-known for shepherding the pop culture phenomenon Stranger Things to the masses, serving as an executive producer, director, and even a minor actor on the show. He has also contributed to Netflix’s other serial vehicle, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt by helming an episode.
Between these commitments, Levy’s last big-screen directorial effort actually came in the form of the final installment of the Night at the Museum series (of which he made all three), and that was released way back in 2014.
Yet, to say that Levy isn’t trying to get some new movies off the ground would be inaccurate. Take one look at his Wikipedia page and we’re left with the impression that he’s constantly working. The cinematic prequel to the video game Uncharted (which is due to star Spider-Man: Homecoming‘s Tom Holland) secured him as director in 2016. Levy will also reportedly remake the 1980s sci-fi romance Starman. As for much smaller projects, he has The Fall and Crater in the works.
Basically, Levy is busier than ever. We’re just not sure when any of his brainchildren will hit theaters. However, his productivity levels are not slowing down in the slightest either. The Hollywood Reporter has announced that Levy will team up with Ryan Reynolds for a new sci-fi action comedy.
Titled Free Guy, the film will focus on a character who realizes he’s a background player in a video game. The world as he knows it is evidently in peril thanks to some game developers who want to shut the entire operation down. Thus, Free Guy‘s protagonist must team up with an avatar in order to save his version of reality.
Levy is slated to direct and produce, while Reynolds is in talks to star in and also produce the movie. Picked up as a spec script in 2016, Free Guy was penned by Matt Lieberman, writer of Netflix’s upcoming Thanksgiving feature The Christmas Chronicles.
By all accounts, Levy and Reynolds are the ones to watch out for here, given that they make an excellent match as comedy veterans. Over the course of their careers, they’ve largely focused on drawing laughter from the most irreverent content. Although Levy’s slate as a producer has been varied and undeniably serious at times (for example, The Spectacular Now and Arrival), he is usually in charge of much sillier fare on the big screen. Thank goodness they’re also heartfelt.
The Night of the Museum movies say it all, with a hefty sense of wonderment and familial warmth thrown into a ridiculous premise of museum exhibits come to life. Levy’s Real Steel, a Hugh Jackman vehicle about boxing robots, sounds too fatuous to work, but it blatantly does because of its likable stars and a strong throughline of kinship underpinning a thinner narrative. In comparison, his Date Night adopts a more riotous and bizarre vein, though it similarly succeeds thanks to the naturalism and chemistry of its stars, Steve Carrell and Tina Fey.
I do think that the best Levy film by far touches on darkness in a concrete and affecting way, though. The comedy-drama This Is Where I Leave You is all about how death affects a dysfunctional family. We’re primed to genuinely laugh and cry with the Altmans (the main clan of the film) as they navigate the throes of grief after losing loved ones in a number of situations. Overall, it comes across like the ideal midpoint between the goodness of Levy’s family films and the outrageousness of Date Night.
Still, judging from the synopsis of Free Guy alone, perhaps hoping that Levy’s latest will be anywhere close to This Is Where I Leave You is nothing more than wishful thinking. Nevertheless, the breadth of his work shows that he can operate in various genres to very entertaining results, all the while managing to incorporate something soulful in even his simpler projects.
A big theme in Levy’s success involves finding the right stars for his movies, too. Hence, with Reynolds on board, Free Guy should be in solid hands.
Reynolds has had a full plate in Hollywood for a couple of years thanks to the success of Deadpool. Really, his schtick doesn’t often change all that much from comedy to comedy anyway, because he tends to play up the trope of the convivial smartass. A cursory look at mid-2000s Reynolds movies like Blade: Trinity, Waiting…, and Just Friends exemplifies this, and that vibe carries over seamlessly into his portrayal of Wade Wilson.
Even as Reynolds has developed laudable drama projects (Buried, Mississippi Grind, and Life) and even noteworthy off-kilter stuff (The Voices) over the years, his penchant for quippy banter remains his signature. So much so that I can already imagine just how much of that will occur in Free Guy, especially given the presumably high stakes of “life” and “death” found in the film’s premise.
Levy and Reynolds continually make names for themselves in Hollywood separately, and their backlog ensures a true commitment to having a good time. I’m also inclined to believe that despite their busy schedules, Reynolds’ star power might push this particularly Levy project through development a little faster. In any case, a Levy and Reynolds team-up makes perfect sense, and I’m very intrigued to see what they cook up together.