Guns Akimbo

2020 | rated R | starring Daniel Radcliff, Samara Weaving | written & directed by Jason Lei Howden | 1 hr 38 mins |

You’ve seen this movie before, just not quite like this. Guns Akimbo is a kinetic, hyper-stylized, live-action video game with a pension for satire, 2 solid performances at the center and a nasty habit of terrible 1 liners. Where many of these kind of movies lean toward the ugly, anarchist, dumb and obnoxiously self-aggrandizing, Guns has sparks of wicked creativity, a concern for it’s leads or an inventively executed shoot-out that cuts through the noise.

Miles (Daniel Radcliff, in the first role I’ve seen him in that feels comfortable and not a desperate attempt to distance himself from Harry Potter) is a vegan peacenik who works for a mobile video game company and spends his days and nights trolling the trolls online. One day he trolls the wrong account and encounters Skizm, a worldwide dark web game that pits kidnapped people against each other in a fight to the death. It’s The Running Man and Death Race 2000 for the smartphone generation. 40 years later the satire is the same, it’s just the mode of our cultural rot that changed. It’s not TV that is now our mechanism for bloodlust, it’s the internet.

Skizm breaks into Miles’ apartment and bolts a gun to each of his hands with 50 bullets in each. They put him head to head with Nix (Samara Weaving, Ready or Not) the reining champion of murder and mayhem. Miles tries to eat, drink and use his phone with gunhands like Edward Scissorhands, a movie that gets name-checked here. Written & directed by Jason Lei Howden, Guns Akimbo is very aware of it’s influences which makes it all go down smoother.  The shootouts are quite good and a lot of fun, particularly one in Miles’ office. Every time Nix shows up, Howden has a pop cover of “Right Round” or “Ballroom Blitz” over the gunplay and each stage has a distinct look – like a video game level.

The movie also looks great. Usually these type of hyper-stylized movies throw in the quick cuts and motion graphics like they’re the first to do it where style and cleverness is replaced with speed and tackiness. I’m thinking Crank or Gamer or Shoot ‘Em Up here. Akimbo has more of a personality. Howden uses the on-screen graphics toward the action, counting down the bullets in Miles’ guns (“Lefty” and “Righty”). When he originally wakes up with them, the way the camera floats around him conveys his disorientation in an inventive way.

Radcliff and Weaving really make this work through. Radcliff plays the online troll forced to real world violence perfectly. Weaving is always fun, playing Nix like Kaitlin Olson’s Dee Reynolds on meth. The two combatants trade bullets and bad one-liners for the organization, rampaging through the city getting help and hurt by the Truman Show viewers watching online. Rhys Darby shows up, almost unrecognizable, as a homeless ally.  The big problem is the 3rd act which slips from an action movie with quips to full-blown farcical comedy. Completely overrun by painful 1-liners.

Much better than Crank but not as good as, say, Wanted (how the wonderful lunacy of Wanted ever got made with a big studio and A-list stars is a minor Hollywood miracle), Guns Akimbo is an entertaining action bonanza that spins it’s movie and video game influences into a good time and slices deep with cynical satire. It’s more focused on character than these movies often are, which powers the rest of the lunacy. Trashy fun.

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