Guns Akimbo, 2020
Written and Directed by Jason Lei Howden.
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Samara Weaving, Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Ned Dennehy, Mark Rowley, Hanako Footman, and Rhys Darby.
A guy relies on his newly-acquired gladiator skills to save his ex-girlfriend from kidnappers.
Guns Akimbo might be the single most awkward reviewing assignment I have taken on, mostly because of the social media controversy regarding the film’s writer and director Jason Lei Howden (by all means a competent filmmaker, as of right now most known for Deathgasm) is tied to the theme of Internet toxicity and cyberbullying. The approach to both real-world drama and cinematic themes are both problematic, to say the least. At best, he is a filmmaker with his heart in the right place, while at worst he is somewhat unhinged and should start practicing more of what he preaches. I don’t know where the truth lies and I also kind of don’t care (I don’t know a single person associated with the online Twitter drama), because all that really matters and what is unquestionably evident is that Jason Lei Howden is using a whole lot of edge – that should play to teenagers well – trying to say something about nasty online behavior, ultimately never saying anything remotely useful.
It’s a movie where the protagonist is thrust into a live-streamed Running Man fight for survival at the hands of being doxxed during a routine session of trolling the trolls. Doxxing and swatting, among other disturbing behavior, is sadly prominent within the gaming community (and I have no doubts that Jason Lei Howden has legitimate gaming credentials considering some of his online handles are public information), and is a topic deserving of someone to take a swing at. Instead, it’s just a throwaway schematic to get the titular firearms bolted onto the hands of Daniel Radcliffe’s Miles.
Jason Lei Howden also wants viewers to know that this is not another shoot-em-up flick about a loner nerd looking to win back his ex-girlfriend like she is an “Xbox Achievement”, which is bizarre considering the movie was pitched to me for review like that, contains a similar IMDb synopsis, and at one point has Miles’ ex-girlfriend (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) kidnapped. Although for a movie filled with action tropes, that’s the least of the concerns here, as far more annoying is the childish humor that should play right into those youngsters who spend most of their time watching YouTube and Twitch. At one point, a woman has a couple of her fingers severed, only for her to quip back “Friday nights are going to be really lonely now”, which should give you some idea of the level of cringe jokes.
Nevertheless, Ned Dennehy is Riktor, a heavily tattooed, bulging eyes, cartoon character of a ruthless criminal (he kind of looks like a more grounded and realistic version of Emperor Palpatine) that has found success live-streaming deathmatches to the degenerates of the world. His star competitor is a cocaine-addicted, no-nonsense crack shot played by Samara Weaving (Guns Akimbo is a rare case where even she can’t elevate the juvenile and weak material surrounding her) seemingly on her way out of the games after racking up a few more wins. Naturally, her final target becomes Miles, a sad sack nice guy forced into this hell because he angered the wrong Internet wackos.
It goes without saying that Miles finds it difficult to partake in the violence (each of the guns attached to his hands have 50 bullets, and he doesn’t really start using them until near the end when he is convinced that bloodshed is the only way to save his ex-girlfriend), but there are some amusing bits seeing him adjusting to performing everyday tasks with his newfound complications. Really funny is a segment involving a homeless crack addict that involves everything from uneaten seven-month-old hotdogs to helping Miles get dressed (poor Harry Potter has gone from casting spells to needing help putting on a pair of pants).
Somehow, it’s the action sequences that never make an impact; everything has impressive choreography with clarity and a high body count but is presented at hyper speed with no punch. The idea of style here seems to be absurdly fake-looking blood and covers of rock songs (the music choices only get more bizarre as the film goes on). There is also so much physical confrontation and random shootouts that the movie not only becomes exhaustingly repetitive but by the 20-minute mark, it felt like I should have been 45 minutes into the movie. That’s how much Guns Akimbo rushes from scene to scene, but to be fair it’s not like the characters or cyberbullying themes are ever made a point to be explored beyond basic acknowledgment. Even doing that, it never builds momentum across any of its shootouts, which is remarkable considering it’s a 95-minute movie where at least 60 minutes involves some manner of carnage.
For Jason Lei Howden to use Guns Akimbo to go on a self-righteous tirade against cyberbullying when his own film adds nothing to the conversation, well, he should contemplate screwing his mouth shut and reflect on things, hopefully in the future planning to tackle cyberbullying in a more productive and healthy way. Removing the controversy from the equation, Guns Akimbo is still a disappointing action flick with squandered potential.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com