Daniel Radcliffe has been on a peculiar career journey similar to the Leonardo Dicaprios and Robert Pattinsons of the world. That is, on the heels of a worldwide cinematic phenomenon that made him a household name among teenagers, he’s taken a left turn into more peculiar territory in order to shed his former teen idol image. Following Horns, Kill Your Darlings, and Swiss Army Man, Guns Akimbo is another one of these left turns, this time with mixed results.
Guns Akimbo is loud, brash, crass, underwritten, and over-directed. It’s also a lot of fun in spite of itself. Akimbo exists in a silly, exaggerated form of modern America today, where a punk-rock, coke head criminal organization known as Skizm live streams an ongoing series of lurid death matches between various gun-toting individuals from around the globe. Using drones and other tech, they somehow get away with this despite presumptive and apparent law enforcement measures to take them down. You could call it a dystopian nightmare set in the future were it not for everything else looking and feeling a lot like pre-pandemic 2020. Radcliffe is a well-meaning loser Millennial with an abusive manager at work, no life at home, and hours to spare on video games and vile online message boards. When he meanders onto Skizm’s lowly site, he makes the mistake of pissing off the wrong internet troll and thus finds himself at the mercy of said group’s tatted, psychotic ringleader (Ned Dennehy). They break into his home, bolt handguns to his hands, and give him a dangerous ultimatum: kill assigned opponent Nix, or die at their hand. Played with manic gusto by a pierced-up Samara Weaving, Nix is the game’s bad ass grim reaper of winners. So it’s short, pale, non-violent and vegetarian Miles Lee Harris versus a predictably not-evil blonde bombshell in leather and ammo reels.
Radcliffe, for his part, is a game performer as always. From the messy, aforementioned Horns to flatulent comedy like Swiss Army Man, he’s always believable and never less than endearing. While severely underwritten, Weaving’s Nix is an entertaining diversion and inevitable partner-in-crime for Miles. They’re surrounded by a film that seems hell-bent on inducing cultural and literal vertigo for the viewer, utilizing cartwheeling camera angles, speed ramping, ugly graphics, and rip-roaring editing to disorient and constantly overwhelm its audience with visual and auditory input. Director Jason Lei Howden stops just short of actually exhausting our willingness to “go there,” but he comes close. There’s only so many times you can imitate a frantic video game on film before the rapid-fire violence and hollow aesthetic becomes more numbing than thrilling. Despite brief attempts to satirize online cesspools and gamer-gate culture, the entire plot is basically an endless chase and immature excuse for bloodletting. In other words, it’s a video game. Akimbo works best when focusing on Miles in fish-out-of-water territory, be it his funny inability to perform everyday mundane tasks with guns nailed to his hands or his slow-moving arc from pacifist to reluctant participant.
Guns Akimbo continues Daniel’s series of career left turns, many of which haven’t exactly panned out for the best. Still, the film also continues his string of relatable leading man performances. He’s a lovable, surly lug in the middle of garish, messy directorial shenanigans. Howden may not enjoy a prominent future to come, but Radcliffe always will assuming he’s game for any manner of wacky plots and weird, wicked subjects. He’s officially succeeded at leaving Harry Potter in his past.
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