For years, the moviemaking industry has been obsessed with video games. For even longer they've been obsessed with inserting social commentary into films where it's largely unexpected. Guns Akimbo fits the mold of holding both elements tightly wound together with mixed results. While it begins firing with both barrels (had to be said) in regards to its manic action set pieces, it loses steam when trying to find footing in a message. Thankfully, it's kept afloat by two sterling, go-for-broke lead performances.
As things begin in Guns Akimbo, Miles (Daniel Radcliffe) is your regular millennial slacker. He works a soul-sucking job, is mad at the world, and delights in trolling trolls behind the safety of his keyboard. Unfortunately, during the middle of a late-night drinking session, he sets his sights on trying to lash back at the internet's latest trend, Schizm: an organization that lets viewers watch as two individuals duel to the death in the aptly named "Shrapnel City." Miles' life is thrown for a loop when the leader behind Schizm, Riktor (Ned Dennehy) decides to make his life a literal living hell. Waking up with two guns bolted to his hands, he has 24 hours to track down and kill the games biggest draw and leading death-machine, Nix (Samara Weaving).
With his hands encumbered, Miles attempts normal daily activities carefully, as to not set off the guns, filled with 50 bullets each. Failing spectacularly, he roams the streets clad only in a bathrobe, rubber ducky boxers, and oversized tiger claw slippers. The sight of Radcliffe in this attire is enough to elicit a chortle, but is just one element of an engaging performance. Sporting an American accent, he throws himself into each escalatingly precarious situation. Though Miles is presented in the realm of a weak-willed cowardly individual, his ceaseless inherent charm overrides this designation. At worst, it just helps people cheer him on all the more.
Equally as nutty in Guns Akimbo is Weaving as the heavily tattooed Nix. Being stuck in the game’s cycle for a long time and labeled as "clinically insane," she's developed into a person both troubling and intoxicating. Brandishing a large arsenal of weapons, almost every other line she spouts is a one-off action cliché, but it's Weaving’s commitment to the part that keeps eyes glued to the screen. With this and the recent release of Ready or Not, Weaving is jockeying for position as "genre actress of the year."
The main draw in Guns Akimbo is the continual assault of action and kinetic pacing, complete with visual cues straight out of a video game. Inhalers and all manner of drugs are presented as power-ups, Miles’ bullets register upon the screen, and battles end with a giant "VS" reminder of the perished contestants, with online view counters popping up time and time again. Yet, this decision is never a permanent fixture, wanting at times to remind the audience this is taking place in the real world rather than a virtual landscape.
Reading the basics here may sound super great, but the execution of the story is where things start to falter. In the simplest terms, Guns Akimbo is a mash-up of Gamer, Crank, Wanted and Hardcore Henry, carrying with it all the strengths and weaknesses of those films. As Miles and Nix butt heads again and again, director Jason Lei Howden (Deathgasm) searches for something to pad the time. He fumbles, though, hoping to interject a message of people slavishly lapping up packaged bloodshed as entertainment. It's a momentary passing fancy, given the way he goes about presenting these viewers.
The downside to trotting down this path is that it's better served either going whole hog and having that commentary be the backbone, or avoiding it altogether. By flirting with it, though, Howden diverts his gaze too much, hurting the overall picture. That's not to say it's entirely devoid of rousing or inspired moments, and there's a good chance Guns Akimbo will find a strong cult following—warts and all.
Movie Score: 3/5
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