editor’s note: the below review was written prior to Jason Lei Howden’s horrible actions over the past week. The substance of the review has not been altered following them. The publishing of the review is taking place because while the vision for the film may be Howden’s, there are a lot of people involved the creation of a movie and they should not be silenced because of his actions.
Opening paragraph version #1: “Guns Akimbo” is a movie that desperately wants to be cool. It is in every angle. It is in every cut. It is in every performance. It is in every on screen death and every bit of blood and viscera. That is why it exists: to show the audience how cool these deaths can be. And it succeeds in spades. This movie not only wants to be cool, it is cool. Very cool.
Opening paragraph version #2: “Guns Akimbo” is a movie that focuses itself on how the internet has let the proverbial cat out of the bag, pushing the baser nature of humanity to the fore. It is about how that has led to bad things in our world. It is about how violence and anger and hate have taken over. It is a movie which asks the audience to look deep within its soul and question the way we receive things and interact with our world; and to make sure that we do not allow the negativity to spread.
Welcome to “Guns Akimbo,” a movie that utterly revels in every spent bullet casing and blood splatter; a movie that tells us that such things are awful and yet wants us to love them. The cognitive dissonance of it all is a disaster, pure and simple.
Yes, the basic issue with this film, written and directed by Jason Lei Howden, is that it cannot, does not even attempt to, reconcile two competing ideas which exist at its center. It wants the audience to be wowed by the blood and guts and great camera angles and ultra-cool killings. And, boy, is the movie ever great at offering up that action. That said, it also wants the audience to be utterly horrified at the idea that humanity would have sunk so low.
Either “Guns Akimbo” is insulting us by treating us as though we are a bunch of easily duped idiots or it doesn’t understand that it cannot both be for and against the violence. Either way, the movie is deeply and fatally flawed.
The basic story boils down to this: Daniel Radcliffe’s Miles, a disgruntled coder, spends his evening as an internet troll. When he goes too far and says terrible things about a real-life death match game called Skizm, he is forcibly inserted into said game with the current champion, Nix (Samara Weaving), on his tail. Nix has to kill him, he has to kill her, and Miles, who recognizes the horrid nature of Skizm, has to contend with how not to become that which he most despises.
This is the way in which Howden attempts to have his cake and eat it too – Miles doesn’t want to kill Nix, he’s forced to when Riktor (Ned Dennehy), the guy in charge of Skizm, has guns bolted to Miles’ hands. Our hero’s only possible escape is staying alive long enough to go after Riktor and end the whole thing. It would work if Howden’s camera didn’t so clearly enjoy the action moments and deaths far more than it does the discussion of why people watching real gladiator fights to the death on the internet is bad.
Radcliffe is excellent as the reluctant hero and Weaving is at least as good here as she was in last year’s “Ready or Not” (and she’s great in that). There is an intensity in her performance that enthralls even as her actions disgust. She is then exactly what the movie wants to be and isn’t. The performances of the two leads deserves better than Nix’s convoluted, burdensome, backstory and the false pretense under which every action scene operates.
And, if this review keeps coming back to the same point it is because it is essential – the majority of “Guns Akimbo” is a series of action sequences designed to foster bloodlust in the viewer, it doesn’t get to walk away from that desire by offering the overarching theme that such levels of violence are bad. But, it attempts to do just that. It is, not to mince words, reprehensible and should be skipped.
photo credit: Saban Films