Spoilers will open fire indiscriminately.
Movies that depict real-life deathmatches should have their own genre by this point. Yes, the internet can be a cesspool – specially the comment section on youtube. Let’s also agree that the social commentary is already ingrained into the plot, and the reason why we watch is to see how close we get to video game nirvana: reckless driving, irresponsible gun play and cartoonish action-violence. Just remember to keep it on the other side of the screen the same way that you do with horror films and rom-coms.
Guns Akimbo was written and directed by Jason Lei Howden. An unsuspecting guy named Miles (Daniel Radcliffe) gets dragged into a real-life deathmatch between wanted criminals that streams online after trolling the comment section. Miles is not the typical retired special forces former marine from an 80’s movie, but the typical mild-mannered nerd that is a fan of such films. He’s just the average code jockey for a mobile game for kids, constantly harassed at his job and still pining for his ex-girlfriend. Now he’s on the run from deathmatch top killer Nix (Samara Weaving).
The movie has a lot riding on it. Daniel Radcliffe pulls an above-average performance as the Miles. He’s the audience surrogate, he’s non-violent, he doesn’t want to fight much less kill anyone. He’s relatable, approachable and he’s trying so desperately to get out of his situation. On the other hand, Samara Weaving has perfected the cyberpunk badass scowl and does a reasonable job at being the initial antagonist that might turn face at some point.
The movie walks the line between over-the-top violent and sporadically realistic for a few moments. That means, we’ll address that guns sound loud enough to make people deaf once, and after that just pretend that people can shoot guns with bolts and nails going through their palms. Trauma seems to appear only at certain spots of the narrative. Otherwise, we’re really going for the fantasy violence appeal, which is usually announced by loud rock music. It’s gratuitous fun, but at least we do keep our main character human and grounded. Mostly. Barely. Kinda.
There’s a twist at some point that comes off as very, very predictable. I felt that when it happens, explaining it might be something we could’ve skipped over but that’s not what happens. Sitting through that exposition might be the only time I had to wait for the movie to catch up as it felt completely unnecessary. Well, for people who wanted a break from the action, that was it. We do get a rare breather while Miles talks to an eccentric homeless man played by Rhys Darby.
When you get down to it, we can stretch out the suspension of disbelief in the name of entertainment as long as the characters are engaging enough. Radcliffe pulls it off, at least enough to have most of us in his corner. Weaving does a decent job at seeming unhinged and unruly in a way that might draw comparisons to DC’s Harley Quinn. On the other hand, Ned Dennehy’s performance as final boss Riktor felt a little uninspired. I also felt Nova, played by Natasha Liu Bordizzo, was added just for the damsel-in-distress angle which we probably didn’t need to add. I get we want the up the ante for the final showdown, but at that point I’d also been thankful for a more subversive ending.
The plot reminds me a lot of The Running Man (1987) updated with the style and color palette from Suicide Squad (2016). Radcliffe feels miscast at first, but he’s engaging enough that we feel invested in what happens to him. The moment that we started to learn Weaving’s Nix backstory, she seemed a lot more interesting and I wish we’d seen more of her. My major nitpick was how the movie tries to bring in some semblance of realism (gunfire can leave you deaf) but goes back to video game logic (Miles has endured severe trauma to his hands and can still use the guns at all). The movie does expect you to turn off your real-life brain and think like a First Person Shooter. I wish the comedic side would have prevailed specially for the ending, where we’re going for the damsel-in-distress cliche when the villain (sigh) kidnaps Miles’ ex-girlfriend. It’s obviously Miles that needs saving. When you have the subversion already set by your premise and hold it back because you want that hero moment for your protagonist, it feels cheap.
Recommended for the video game action crowd with minor reservations for the casual crowd. Casual audiences might feel overloaded by the constant bombastic barrage of action. I felt that if Miles had been played by anybody else, or a newcomer, it would have run the risk of not keeping us invested throughout. The twist and ending are a bit on the weak side in my opinion. I could have done with some sort of subversion, specially for the final outcome. After all, if we are using an unconventional protagonist, we could have aimed at something different for the wrap-up. Either way, if you’re a fan of the genre you might want to give it a shot.
That will do for now.