TIFF 2019: GUNS AKIMBO Review – HARDCORE HENRY Meets THE RUNNING MAN
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Samara Weaving, Ned Dennehy
Written by Jason Lei Howden
Directed by Jason Lei Howden
Hyper-stylized violence, vulgar one-liners, and frenetic energy galore, Guns Akimbo is a 16-bit video game come to life that embraces its M For Mature rating. But like with any video game upon launch, there are some bugs and glitches that detract from the overall experience.
Daniel Radcliffe plays Miles, a mild-mannered introvert IRL during the day and a troll who only attacks other trolls online during the night. There’s no fight or bravado to be found in Miles, who is content to play the hero behind his keyboard armor and monitor shield. Of course, when you mess with the wrong account, sometimes that account snaps back. Enter Skizm, a live-streaming platform dedicated to broadcasting what essentially amounts to The Running Man. Competitors fight to the death against each other against the backdrop of an unnamed city while cameras and drones capture every bone-jarring moment. Success is measured in how many people are streaming a scene at any given moment.
Miles – after being drugged and dual pistols bolted to his hands in a Tetsuo: The Iron Man bit of body horror gruesomeness – must face off against Nix (Weaving), a battle-tested regular who holds the record for most kills in a row. Looking for all the world like Jared Leto’s Suicide Squad Joker, she slaughters without discrimination, remorse, or care. She’s pretty much become the ultimate killing machine, embracing the ’80s action hero who spouts off genitalia-heavy vulgar one-liners while wielding devastating weaponry.
While the concept is exciting and the film fun, repetition sets in halfway through and little is done to break the monotony. It’s the same chase, the same shootout, the same “barely escaped by the seat of my pants”, over and over up to, including, and beyond Miles and Nix teaming up to take down Skizm, a predictable plot point that can be seen a mile away.
Howden also relies on the same trick multiple times throughout the runtime where an action sequence will suddenly start blaring a rock, punk, or classic song, as though the audio gag is enough to differentiate this scene from the one prior or the one to come. Alas, it is not.
Radcliffe fully embraces his role of a man who must become the action hero he plays in video games, all while being unable to use his hands, thanks to the multitude of bolts and screws holding the pistols in place. Throwing himself about with reckless abandon and clearly delighting in his humiliating attire (oversized tiger slippers, anyone?), Radcliffe is relishing every single moment of his nobody-turned-hero transformation. A complaint for his character is that Miles, a vegan who’s totally averse to violence, mistakenly but deservedly kills someone, and then suddenly has no problem massacring with reckless abandon. This accidental slaughter also seems to flip the switch from Storm Troopers “can’t hit the broad side of a barn” to Lethal Weapons “I’ll shoot a smiley face on the target”. They try to pull this back but you can’t go from one extreme to the other and then settle on a middle ground. It’s a bit late for that.
For Nix, the problems aren’t in the performance, which Weaving nails, but rather in the script, which has her spouting off quips and snark much like her character Melanie Cross in Joe Lynch’s Mayhem. But while Lynch’s film offered a reason for her character to spew profanities left, right, and center, there comes a point in Guns Akimbo where the lines feel forced and disingenuous. Watching Nix inhale cocaine and then scream, “I have the power!” while hoisting a hammer above her head doesn’t convey the impact the film seems to intend.
Ned Dennehy plays villain Riktor, which might just be the most ’80s action movie name I’ve ever heard. Hilariously mocked for him and his stooges looking like end bosses from Streets of Rage (it’s 100% true), Riktor chews the scenery and makes for a perfectly suitable baddie. The other minibosses are little more than nameless flunkies. For as video game-influenced as this movie is, the villains feel more like random encounters than satisfying trials before the ultimate showdown.
Guns Akimbo is a fun, repetitive ride that entertains for a large portion of its runtime. Where it succeeds, it succeeds admirably. Where it falters, it stumbles hard. Thankfully, the positives outweigh the negatives and the end result is a movie that is best enjoyed with a lot of friends and even more alcohol.
Guns Akimbo is a double-barrel blast of adrenalized chaos. It ain’t perfect but goddamn is it a rush when it fires on all cylinders.