A film review by Craig J. Koban July 28, 2020


2020, R, 93 mins.


Daniel Radcliffe as MilesSamara Weaving as Nix  /  Natasha Liu Bodizzo as Nova  /  Ned Dennehy as Ricktor  


Written and directed by Jason Lei Howden



I will give Daniel Radcliffe full props for flipping the bird to conventional post-HARRY POTTER movie roles.  

After seeing GUNS AKIMBO I can positively relay that it gives SWISS ARMY MAN - an absurdist survival comedy that featured the actor playing a chronically farting corpse - a run for its money for being the looniest Radcliffe movie that I've ever laid eyes on.  

I remember never being truly supportive of his performance range during the entirety of his HARRY POTTER run (I generally found his work to be kind of stiff), but he most assuredly deserves high praise for the sheer audacity of his career choices as of late.  Radcliffe seems game to try just about anything on screen as of late.  

And I do mean anything. 

Let me set up the limitlessly bizarre premise of GUNS AKIMBO for you all.  In a bleak near future world exists a brutal underground cult known as SKIZM, which has achieved massive popularity for live streaming real death matches between all sorts of sociopaths.  Living in this warped world is Radcliffe's Miles Lee Harris, who works a lowly and go-nowhere job as a video game programmer.  He faces cripplingly verbal abuse from his boss on a daily basis, which leads to the introverted dweeb spending most of his free evenings in his flat engaging in all sorts of keyboard warrior trolling on various chat forums, with one being on the SKIZM servers.  Even though he faces a constant barrage of online abuse in the expletive laced arguments with complete strangers online, Miles somehow gets off on it.  Plus, he's all alone after a nasty break-up with his girlfriend (Natasha Liu Bordizzo), which he has trouble processing. 

Miles has a near obsession with crashing the SKIZM message boards and pulls no punches in barraging its users with all sort of petty insults.  Unfortunately for him, his apartment is broken into by some hired goons that work for SKISM's insane head honcho  Riktor (Ned Dennehy), who proceed to beat and drug the unsuspecting coder.  When Miles awakens the next morning he's in for a whole different form of shock: He discovers to his absolute horror that he has a pair of guns surgically bolted to his hands, with each of his fingers sewn into the grips and triggers.  Even worse is that he has been thrown into the next live streamed SKIZM match as punishment for his chat room antics, and his first opponent is the ultra lethal and nearly impossible to kill Nix (Samara Weaving), who's small in stature, but a hungry killing machine that shows absolutely no mercy whatsoever. 

Well, it could be worse, actually.  At least Miles isn't a dead body with flatulence issues. 



Sarcasm aside, GUNS AKIMBO does benefit from some modest cleverness with its out-there, most dangerous game premise.  We've all seen many films before involving people hunting other people for sport, to be sure, but rarely with the macabre twists that writer/director Jason Lei Howden offers up here.  Let's just say that he explores all of the embarrassing - and sometimes nauseating - issues that arise when a human being has guns surgically attached to both of his hands and without usage of any of his fingers.  Eating is kind of out, not to mention basic bathroom functions (unzipping your pants and holding your...ya know...is painfully tricky) and - gasp! - using your smart phone in any meaningful way is next to impossible (Miles' nose comes in handy in terms of screen navigation and inputting tactile commands).  One little extra tidbit that I neglected to mention is that each of Miles' weapons contains just 50 rounds each, meaning that he has to - like a video game character with low ammunition - preserve each shot and make them count (especially thorny if you're not a firearms expert).  Plus, getting assistance from just about anyone - including the police or ex-girlfriends - is really dicey, because the sight of one sporting gun hands raises quick and frightened suspicion.   

A lot of GUNS AKIMBO reminded me of the equally nuttier than a fruitcake CRANK series of films on levels of pure black comedy lunacy.  And it's easy to be taken in with the idea of an online trolling nerd getting dumped in an ultimate nightmare scenario of being coerced into playing the same unsimulated death match show that he took great pride in ripping into.  Of course, there's the predictable arc of seeing this scared out of its wits nobody slowly, but surely, learn the ropes of his nightmarish predicament and acclimate to the best of his abilities to stave off death, but it's made all the more crazily inspired Radcliffe's absolutely go-for-broke commitment to role, which demands a highly difficult level of physicality and an affinity for embracing the over the top slapsticky nature of the whole enterprise.  And, damn, Radcliffe is thanklessly good and quite amusing as this sad sack forced to be a televised action hero, and he's wonderfully paired with borderline unrecognizable Weaving (who was sensationally in last summer's equally violent horror comedy READY OR NOT) as her machine gun and bazooka blasting pixie murderer that makes Harley Quinn look mentally well adjusted.  She scores a lot of twisted laughs because of her nonchalant attitude towards murder-death-killing her prey, much to the equally hysterical anxiety displayed by Miles in response. 

Obviously, the thematic subtext of GUNS AKIMBO is blatantly apparent in terms of trying to engage in meaningful commentary about modern gamer and online culture, and the toxic extremes that exist within.  Howden is aiming, I think, for nail biting satire about how one social media commenter goes from being a hidden voyeur that hides behind the anonymity of the Internet that's thrust into the very public spotlight of participating in the thing he loathes without consent.  One of the biggest problems, though, with GUNS AKIMBO is that it really offers up nothing of witty substance to its attacks on savage cyber bullies and the dehumanizing subculture of insta-celebs that become famous overnight for the wrong reasons.  There's the initial coolness and poetic justice of a gamer addict like Miles being an unwilling and victimized participant in a real life video game with dangerous consequences, but Howden never pushes seems to know what he really wants to say about all of this.  GUNS AKIMBO appears to be lustfully enamored with its ever-growing monotonous mayhem and hyper violence the longer it progresses...and less so with social messaging about said carnage.  By the time the film reached an anti-climatic conclusion I felt that all it offered up was empty minded spectacle and numbing carnage, and not much else.   

That's too bad, because a film with such a zany concept and commendably game lead actor in Radcliffe at the helm deserved a much better follow through that what we're given here.  GUNS AKIMBO is an exhausting experience instead of a joyously exciting one, and it's almost too hyper-caffeinated for its own good (Howden methodically peppers the screen with obtrusive visual overkill - fast moving cameras, editorial schizophrenia, a bombastic techno music score, and a head spinning forward momentum that just doesn't know when to calm down).  Another distracting elephant in the room element to this film is the pre-release controversy that tainted the director, which found Howden drawing ample criticism when he penned a series of tweets targeting film critics of color, which clearly left a bad taste in many mouths.  Past scandals aside, GUNS AKIMBO had such potential for inspired, frenetic madness as a blood soak futuristic action satire, and it most assuredly has individual moments of trashy intrigue (and, as mentioned, Radcliffe is on a whole other engagingly maniacal level here).  The film is a lot like mindlessly bombastic video games that it's trying to subversively skewer: Initially compelling in a low rent kind of way, but soon becomes so ultimately tiresome that you just want to kind of hit your console's reset button and try something else of substance. 

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