Studio: Saban Films
Director: Jason Lei Howden
Writer: Jason Lei Howden
Producer: Joe Neurauter, Felipe Marino, Tom Hern
Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Samara Weaving, Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Ned Dennehy, Grant Bowler, Edwin Wright, Rhys Darby
An unassuming man with guns bolted to his hands is forced to play a real-life deathmatch while being pursued by cops and murderous psychopaths.
¡°Guns Akimbo¡± is angry. It¡¯s angry about soul-sucking office jobs. It¡¯s angry about condescending dudebros. It¡¯s angry about self-crowned keyboard kings hiding behind anime avatars to anonymously post insults online. It¡¯s mad as hell about current social culture, where cellphone screens stand in for eyeballs and impersonal text communications have numbed humanity into forgetting feelings like empathy and remorse.
If you¡¯re worried about a rage-fueled movie that amounts to the equivalent of complaining screams in film form, don¡¯t be. Anger may influence action, but it doesn¡¯t dominate the movie¡¯s attitude. ¡°Guns Akimbo¡± criticizes, satirizes, and gets its kicks from the therapeutic release of cathartic craziness by celebrating comedic crassness, explosive irreverence, and the manic madness of flippantly fun cinema.
Daniel Radcliffe stars as mild-mannered Miles, a quiet computer programmer who codes one of those throwaway mobile games designed to pull money out of mom¡¯s purse through aggressively excessive microtransactions. Miles fills free time in a number of average Everyman ways, with one of those ways being trolling trolls on the internet. It¡¯s when he decides to lob invectives at supporters of ¡®Skizm¡¯ that his life goes from ordinary to extremely insane.
In this skewed near future, the underground fight club organization Skizm has collected a massive online following by live-streaming real deathmatches featuring criminals and psychopaths. Lemming-like fans callously couldn¡¯t care less about collateral damage or consequences. Murder is merely one more means of providing them amusement to watch on a monitor.
How does Skizm recruit participants? In most cases, mass murderers and nutjobs volunteer. For Miles, he wakes up after being beaten and drugged to find that Riktor, the madman behind Skizm, has had henchmen painfully bolt guns to his hands. Using a phone, turning a doorknob, and going to the bathroom without shooting his d*ck off are now huge problems. An even bigger problem is Nix, the Skizm all-star sent to chase, shoot, maim, and rocket launch her way across the city in a kill or be killed contest with an unwilling Miles.
¡°Guns Akimbo¡± mashes up every midnight movie ingredient anyone can think of to manufacture the kind of appeal that promotes clenching fists while puffing guffaws and grunts of satisfaction toward a screen. It¡¯s loud. It moves fast. It marries the vibe of a grungy dive bar with the nonstop neon of an EDM music festival while taking a rock-n-roll acid trip through wildly exaggerated violence. Whatever your vice, be ready to fuel up on as much candy, caffeine, or cocaine as necessary to keep up, because ¡°Guns Akimbo¡± never takes its lead foot off the gas.
Daniel Radcliffe goes from 0 to 100 in the first 15 minutes and then impressively maintains top speed for the rest of the runtime. Miles has to constantly come up with motor-mouthed claptrap to explain his situation or suddenly navigate complicated environments packed with gun-wielding punks. It¡¯s a true treat watching Radcliffe turn into an R-rated cartoon character with Tex Avery eyes practically popping out of his head while doing Buster Keaton pratfalls with his gun hands.
As Nix, Samara Weaving essentially plays a terminator who is every bit as menacingly imposing as Arnold and as terrifyingly relentless as Robert Patrick. When the movie takes a break from her ongoing onslaught, Rhys Darby sneaks in as a crack-smoking vagrant for brief comic relief that nearly steals the show.
¡°Guns Akimbo¡± understands the absurdity it embraces. In a meta wink that lets the audience know it¡¯s in on the joke, one man mentions that thugs whose appearances include tattooed faces, mohawks, and gimp masks look like ¡°end level bosses from Streets of Rage.¡± Another nod has the big bad call out the clich¨¦ of a rooftop confrontation with a heroine held hostage for a final faceoff.
The movie overdoses on these obvious influences until the sarcasm, splatter, and slickness become 100% their own thing. It¡¯ll either be 100% your thing too, or possibly make you puke from the over-the-top carnival of carnage and disorienting technical style copiloted by unblinking editing and a restless camera regularly defying gravity.
Someone bent over vomiting could contend ¡°Guns Akimbo¡¯s¡± energy is exhausting. The film features an immeasurable amount of gunplay and squib bursting drenched in Suspiria colors, leading ¡°yeah, we get it¡± attention spans to tune out here and there.
I enjoyed and admire the movie a great deal. Yet I still found myself longing for a quicker wrap-up as the last half-hour redundantly ran itself ragged. To win a chef¡¯s kiss with more smack, ¡°Guns Akimbo¡± could have used more vignettes in the vein of Miles meeting the bum, inadvertently interrupting a drug deal, and bickering with two detectives. In place of additional side stories, the last act instead gets caught continually spinning in a repetitive barrel roll of baddies getting blown up or shot in a lengthy corridor firefight.
Nevertheless, ¡°Guns Akimbo¡± is damn impressive on a technical level alone. Between the onscreen text, graphic overlays, endless visual effects, and inability to sit still on any single shot, editing and post-production on this movie had to have been an extraordinarily enormous undertaking.
Prep and shooting were certainly no cakewalks either. Every exterior location comes wallpapered with paint and props to give ¡°Guns Akimbo¡¯s¡± setting the feel of an urban wasteland that exists somewhere between Manhattan and Thunderdome. Either art department painters worked around the clock decking out sets with graffiti or location managers found every nook in New Zealand that street artists used for a field-sized canvas. There isn¡¯t a detail that goes unaddressed by any department.
¡°Deathgasm¡± (review here) was already pretty great, but writer/director Jason Lei Howden outdoes himself here. Granted, Howden has a wealth of experience in other roles across various big Hollywood productions, specifically special effects. But speaking as someone fascinated by the craft, I don¡¯t believe I¡¯ve seen this big of an evolution between freshman and sophomore features from an indie filmmaker. Speaking as someone who just enjoys a gnarly good time at the movies, ¡°Guns Akimbo¡± presses all the right pop culture buttons for any mischievous kid at heart whose imagination was constructed by comic books, video games, and unapologetic action movies.
Review Score: 85