Director: Jason Lei Howden
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Samara Weaving, Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Ned Dennehy, Grant Bowler, Edwin Wright, Rhys Darby
Runtime: 1 hr 37 mins
Rating: M18 (Violence & Coarse Language)
Released By: Golden Village Pictures
Opening Day: 19 March 2020
Synopsis: At a time when millions of people around the world are streaming e-sports content every day, it's not hard to imagine a possible future with the blood-sport insanity of Jason Lei Howden's Guns Akimbo. Videogame developer Miles (Daniel Radcliffe) is a little too fond of stirring things up on the internet with his caustic, prodding, and antagonistic comments. One night, he makes the mistake of drunkenly dropping an inflammatory barb on a broadcast of Skizm, an illegal death- match fight club streamed live to the public. In response, Riktor (Ned Dennehy), the maniacal mastermind behind the channel, decides to force Miles' hand (or hands, as it were) and have him join the "fun." Miles wakes to find heavy pistols bolted into his bones, and learns Nix (Samara Weaving), the trigger-happy star of Skizm, is his first opponent. She's at his front door. Gleefully echoing elements of Edgar Wright's Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, the Purge franchise, and videogames like Smash TV and Mortal Kombat, Guns Akimbo is hilariously dark, viciously violent, and chillingly prescient. Howden foretells of a future that may soon await us: drone- captured live feeds, UFC-like competitions pushed to an extreme and online streaming platforms used for gladiatorial entertainment all around the world. As Miles navigates the underworld of Skizm, the stakes — and the ratings — have never been higher.
Now that Daniel Radcliffe is all grown up, fans of the former Harry Potter star would no doubt have noticed that his acting choices have become a lot less mainstream. While his role here as a down-and-out programmer who is forced to participate in a kill-or-be-killed real-life death match isn’t as esoteric as say that of a sentient corpse in ‘Swiss Army Man’, Radcliffe’s character in ‘Guns Akimbo’ is likely to put off anyone who cannot stomach the guts and gore of writer-director Jason Lei Howden’s gonzo-action-comedy-fantasy.
To Howden’s credit, the premise of his sophomore feature film is an intriguing one: after spending his time trolling the online viewers of an underground fight club called Skizm, the beleaguered coder Miles (Radcliffe) is ambushed in his apartment one evening by the site’s operators, who bolt a set of weighty pistols into his hands and force him to do battle with the number one reigning champion Nix (Samara Weaving). Worse, so that he cannot just run and hide away, the maniacal Riktor (Ned Dennehy) has also kidnapped Miles’ ex-girlfriend Nova (Natasha Liu Bordizzo).
It’s not difficult to guess where the storytelling goes. After trying to flee from Nix, Miles decides that his best bet at surviving is to team up with the Harley Quinn type to take down those behind the competition who have been manipulating both their fates. And true to its concept, Howden approaches the film as if it were a video game itself, stuffing it with plenty of first-person point-of-view shots as well as unabashedly over-the-top violence for much of its running (we mean this literally) duration, complete with frequent gaming and text-messaging graphics to keep up the hyperactivity.
At first, it seems as if Howden had intended for his film to be a commentary on the issue of dehumanisation in the Internet world, what with Skizm viewers putting aside their sense of decency and even basic humanity in order to indulge in their thirst for blood and ultra-violence. Yet it isn’t long before you realise that Howden is having too much fun with his own satire for it to be anything near critique; instead, his film ends up asking us to indulge in the same sort of dehumanising viewing which we had thought the movie was supposed to frown on in the first place.
That it ends up embracing the sort of hedonisms which it looked like it was parodying is why ‘Guns Akimbo’ will likely prove problematic for many viewers, especially since the only way to enjoy the anarchy is to be able to indulge in its casual, even cavalier, attitude towards bloodshed. Howden keeps the anarchy moving at breakneck speed with plenty of gunplay scenes, topped up with headshots and blood splatter. It’s intentionally and obsessively excessive, almost like turning a video game into movie form, and the only way to enjoy it is if you are willing to go along for the ride.
While it does play by the rules of physics (for the most part, at least), there is often little logic to the proceedings. Except for a detective who has a vested interest in Skizm, law and order seems to be utterly non-existent throughout the course of the movie, even with protracted shootouts in the open streets – and of course, Miles running around town with two guns in his pyjamas. Like we said, not much is supposed to make sense, and Howden simply asks that you strap along for a ride as outrageous as its premise promises.
At least Radcliffe seems utterly committed, throwing himself completely into the physicality and ludicrousness required for the role. He is well matched with Weaving, who emits riotous energy with every move. Their performances are critical to selling the movie’s conceit, and the chemistry between them is sizzling. Thanks to Radcliffe and Weaving, you’d find yourself caring more for Miles and Nix than you would probably have expected to, and that emotional involvement makes the frenetic ride a lot more affecting.
Much of course depends on what sort of mental image you’re willing to keep of Radcliffe. Unlike any of the ‘Harry Potter’ movies, this is Radcliffe in one of, if not his most, provocative roles, and those looking for any sort of subtlety best be looking elsewhere. By that same measure, you’d have to love the sheer amount of style and gimmickry which Howden has applied to his insane premise; but those who do not mind that it offers the same sort of diverting pleasures as the games it mimics (and may seem to satirise at the start) will find ‘Guns Akimbo’ a gleeful cocktail of mayhem and carnage.
(As bloody and ultra-violent as the games it aims to mimic, this gonzo-action-comedy-fantasy is Daniel Radcliffe like you've never seen him before)
Review by Gabriel Chong