After a prolific career in visual effects, with credits in many big-budget Hollywood franchises, Jason Lei Howden went back to New Zealand and started a career as a filmmaker. His debut feature, Deathgasm (2015), was a flawed but energetic and very rewatchable action-comedy-horror movie I would absolutely recommend if you’re after some stylised entertainment.
Guns Akimbo is the second movie by Howden and, unsurprising, it’s comprised of the same elements that made Deathgasm sort of a cult hit. This is, also, a New Zealander action-comedy-horror that tries to combine elements of video games with comic books-like aspects. Starring Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter franchise) and Samara Weaving (Ready or Not, Mayhem), Guns Akimbo benefitted from a bigger budget than the director’s previous movie and had a trailer that looked like a lot of crazy fun.
Continue reading and check my final grade below…
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Guns Akimbo – plot and influences
Miles (Radcliffe) is stuck in a dead-end job as a video game developer and is still in love with his ex-girlfriend Nova (Natasha Liu Bordizzo). Unbeknownst to him, a gang called Skizm is running a deadly competition within his city in which complete strangers fight to the death for the entertainment of an online audience of millions. Due to Miles’s negative online comments on Skizm, the gang’s leader (Riktor, played by Ned Dennehy) pays him a visit and… well, attaches a pair of guns to Miles’ hands! Finding himself caught up in the game, our main character is forced to fight in a battle to the death against Nix (Samara Weaving), one of the most successful players. Initially, Miles’ lifetime of running from his problems pays off as he manages to elude Nix, but when Nova is kidnapped, he must finally stop running and overcome his fears to fight for the girl he loves.
Guns Akimbo asks you, from the get-go, for an unusual effort in suspending your disbelief: as far as I’m concerned, this movie takes place in the real world, which makes it debatable that such a deadly game would be able to take place without the police arresting everyone involved. Let alone Skizm being shown online and watched by tons of people! If you can look past that, though, you’d realise the filmmaker was going for a video game-like film, with comics-like elements, inspired by the likes of Turbo Kid, Suicide Squad and Hardcore Henry. In other words, Guns Akimbo aims at being a flashy, stylised and energetic action film filled with shootouts, blood and gore.
A personality through many personalities
The three main characters in the movie – Miles, Nix and Riktor – are very surface-level and cartoonish, but this is in line with the vibe Guns Akimbo was going for, thus it doesn’t feel annoying or out of place. Despite that, they’re very entertaining and engaging to watch due to the all-around solid performances. Daniel Radcliffe, who’s clearly trying to distance himself from the role that made him famous, is able to convey the neurotic nature of his character in a way that’s both funny and relatable. Samara Weaving sneaks in another great performance that shines through her ridiculously grotesque makeup, also being able to deliver threatening messages and funny lines within the same scene. Ned Dennehy as the main villain, however, steals the show in my opinion: his over-the-top performance, combined with makeup and outfit, makes him both scary and hilarious, goofy and dangerous-looking. All in all, these three personalities carry the movie on a story level, managing to overcome the many shortcomings within the script.
In fact, Guns Akimbo is a movie with a strong personality, since it has a distinctive look and it doesn’t shy away from inappropriate jokes and comical, over-the-top violence. One of the most consistent features of this film is the CGI blood and gore, which feels integral to the game-like logic of the story, whereas it’s something I would despise in more seriously-toned pictures. Set design and camera-work are, also, quite stylised: in particular, the movie benefits from some good-looking orbital shots and 360s, as well as pretty cool split screen sequences. Yet, the filmmaking coordination and storyboarding during action and fight scenes makes the whole picture feel exhilarating and fun to watch.
Yet, an ear-bleeding editing nightmare
Although Guns Akimbo aims at being highly distinct, this effort is taken too far, as the movie often confuses style with nausea-inducing visuals. This is particularly apparent in the editing department, with such bad choices they gave me Suicide Squad PTSD: the opening car chase alone features over 60 quick cuts and almost made me turn off the movie. The sound editing is, as well, obnoxious and childlike, as it incorporates popular songs – incredibly out of place – which are abruptly cut short for no reason. In fact, the soundtrack for Guns Akimbo is the other aspect that bogs down this picture: whether you like the music in itself or not, it just isn’t implemented well, to the point that it ruins some of the well-choreographed action sequences.
Unfortunately, editing and music aren’t the only dreadful elements features in the film. The voiceover narration is childlike and exposition heavy; the constant references to pop culture (such as Marvel movies and The Dark Knight trilogy) are pointless, manipulating and amateur; the overreliance on Matrix-like slo-mo feels dated and cheap. Generally speaking, Guns Akimbo took it up a notch every time it was supposed to tone it down a bit: this might be fun for some viewers, but for others it comes off as really annoying and almost unbearable.
In conclusion, Guns Akimbo isn’t as bad as movies like Suicide Squad or Polar, but it never reaches the highs of video game-inspired films such as Turbo Kid, Hardcore Henry and We Are Little Zombies. It’s a movie that features an equal amount of satisfying and obnoxious aspects, which makes it hard to recommend to those of you who also despise flicks like Suicide Squad.
However, oddly enough I was entertained throughout – despite the many instances of annoyance – and I would be lying if I said I won’t watch it again in the future. For me, Guns Akimbo is a true guilty pleasure: not bad enough to get angry at it, but not good enough to consider it anything more than an entertaining, albeit stupid, ride through blood and shootouts.
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