Guns Akimbo is like doing cocaine with a thirteen-year-old boy. I wouldn’t advise it. Unless you are also a thirteen year old boy. And even then, there are better vices out there.
I worry that relaying the plot of Guns Akimbo will turn me into a kind of Cassandra. As much as I would advise you to heed my warnings, I have a sneaking suspicion that the lure of this film’s truly bananas premise will have the opposite effect. Daniel Radcliffe has guns for hands. That’s the plot. He has guns where his hands should be. Like a Hard Boiled Edward Scissorhands. Radcliffe plays Miles, a sloppy “code-monkey” who spends his days shuffling from his couch to his mind-numbing job at a mobile game company. Miles’ hobbies include video games, stalking his ex-girlfriend’s Instagram, and replying to trolls. Then, one day, Miles stumbles across Skizm: a dark-net type battle royale where bloodsport face-offs are live-streamed for the entertainment of the blood-thirsty, online masses. Miles seizes his opportunity and begins to moralize in the comments; telling those violence-loving degenerates what’s what. But you don’t fuck with Skizm. And sure enough, Miles is abducted by some very fashionable goth thugs and, you guessed it: he wakes up with guns bolted to his hands. Oh, and now he’s in a Skizm deathmatch with the game’s leading psychopath, Nix (Samara Weaving), and he can’t even put his pants on, because, and I cannot stress this enough: he has guns for hands. Insanity ensues as Miles stops running from his problems and starts running from a hail of bullets.
Guns Akimbo is the second film from New Zealand director Jason Lei Howden. Lovers of genre may be familiar with Howden’s earlier feature Deathgasm, a Trick or Treat-style heavy metal satanic throwback that achieved modern cult status on the merit of its giddy low-brow charm. Unfortunately, if you thought Deathgasm was too busy for its own good, Guns Akimbo is the worst kind of heightening, lacking all the merits of its predecessor to deliver a fever dream so gratingly manic it’s exhausting. Deathgasm’s unrelenting ultra-violence and punk peccadilloes worked because it had a heart, an organ Guns Akimbo sorely lacks.
Obnoxiously winking narrations excluded, Radcliffe’s Miles is enjoyable enough and he’s easy to buy as an unorthodox action hero. Some of the film’s best-earned laughs are the smaller-scale moments where Miles takes in the absurdity of his situation: when he tries to use his phone, leave his apartment, and urinate with, say it with me: guns for hands. Rhys Darby has a pleasant if completely forgettable cameo as a helpful crack-smoking homeless man. That said, the waste of Darby pales in comparison to the film’s mishandling of Weaving, who despite playing a batty, cocaine-fueled killer, is one-note and uncharacteristically unlikable. Ned Dennehy’s villainous Riktor is a pleasant surprise. It’s a knowingly goofy performance that’s unplaceable in the best sense, with a gloriously wandering accent and a campy disregard for just about every way normal people behave.
The film’s cinematography is like a broken clock, replete with somersaults and the occasional, merciful, slow pan. It’s all very pretty, but after minute thirty of incessant whip-pans and loop-de-loops Guns Akimbo felt less like a thrilling roller coaster than a nauseating teacup ride. It’s like someone put Crank and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World in a laundry machine. It’s loud and kinetic in a way that feels more like it’s mocking its target audience than pandering to them.
Speaking of which, in terms of Guns Akimbo’s message, the film evidently wants to say something about streaming culture, ultra-violence, and the lure of online hate. But, in the end, it seems to want to have its cake and eat it too. The film openly derides those who revel in Skizm, only to replicate that same stylish ultra-violence without a hint of irony. Furthermore, the film’s tone towards Miles’ peace-loving ways is somewhat messy. At best, Guns Akimbo attempts to complicate Miles’ avowed pacifism by punishing his flirtation with online violence with some real-life gunplay. And sure, there is a point to be made about the insidious ways hateful content has elbowed its way online and addicted us to the thrill of feeling like we’re right. And, really, is there a more elegant contrapasso than guns for hands? That said, the film seems to condone a certain sneering attitude that those professing non-violence are hypocrites that would actually have a lot of fun if they loosened up and stopped harshing everyone’s mellow. But if Guns Akimbo’s intention was to hold a mirror up to its audience and point fingers at us for being no better than the viewers enjoying Skizm, that would require Guns Akimbo to be enjoyable.
Guns Akimbo deserves to be praised for its commitment because this film commits. Even though not everything lands, everyone is dialed up to 11, and I have to respect that. If given the choice, I would much rather opt for a film that sticks to its guns (haha) than a more middling attempt. If you’re a fan of high-octane chaos that’s more flash than substance, Guns Akimbo will not disappoint. Say what you will but you cannot accuse this film of pulling punches. It is decidedly all-punch. And, unfortunately, after being punched in the face for ninety minutes, you stop feeling anything.