This OTT action-comedy promises Daniel Radcliffe with guns bolted to his hands — and that's about all it delivers.
Sadly, they exist everywhere online: petty folks who troll, subtweet and spit insults from the safety of their keyboards, all while simultaneously playing the victim and claiming to be superior. As personified by gamer and computer programmer Miles (Daniel Radcliffe), that's the kind of attitude Guns Akimbo seemingly endeavours to skewer. Miles is initially one of those guys, to an extent. Especially forlorn after breaking up with his girlfriend Nova (Natasha Liu Bordizzo), he's happy to mouth off on social media without thinking, even though he definitely knows better. But when he picks a fight with someone willing to take their beef into the real world, he's suddenly immersed in a physical, tangible, life-or-death battle — with guns bolted to his hands, no less — instead of merely trading belittling remarks with an unseen enemy from his couch.
Guns Akimbo isn't the first film or TV show to ponder where humanity's thoroughly 21st-century obsession with technology and always-connected lifestyles may be taking us as a society (as Black Mirror keeps telling us, it's nowhere good). Following in the footsteps of 2016's mostly effective Nerve, it's not the first to get slick and playful with its commentary in this space, either. Alas, although Deathgasm writer/director Jason Lei Howden makes a perceptive leap from online trolling to actual death matches, he isn't particularly interested in engaging with the idea. Sure, one of the movie's characters yells "have you learned nothing from video games?" — winking at and nudging the audience in the process — but rather than meaningfully satirising or making a statement about the internet age, the ease with which abuse has become normalised and the lack of empathy that goes with it, Guns Akimbo is happy to simply lean into its OTT spectacle.
Heartbroken, constantly denigrated at work and just mopey all-round, Miles wades into trouble when — like everyone in this futuristic world, or so we're told — he starts spending too much time watching an illegal underground fight club channel called Skizm. The battles are real, brutal and fatal, and the people pulling the strings don't take kindly to Miles' snarky commentary. Next thing he knows, ringleader Riktor (Ned Dennehy) and his cronies are banging down his door, giving him the body modification from hell and forcing him to play. To stay alive, Miles will have to hunt down reigning champion Nix (Samara Weaving), all while drone cameras capture and stream his every move to the braying, dead-eyed masses.
One of Riktor's henchmen goes by the name Fuckface (Set Sjöstrand). When Miles and the Harley Quinn-esque Nix cross paths, she dubs him 'Fuck Boy'. And, standing atop a car, straddling a gun and wearing heart-shaped sunglasses like she's stepped out of someone's wet dream, Nix is also fond of yelling far more colourful banter. That's the level that Guns Akimbo is operating on — one that splashes slow-motion visuals all over the screen as frequently as its characters fire bullets, and attempts to dress it all up with plenty of supposedly edgy dialogue, relentless chase scenes, and emojis and video game-like imagery. Just as Miles discovers when he wakes up with weaponry nailed to his appendages, however, it all gets old fast.
Expertly choreographed action scenes are a wondrous art form, as the John Wick franchise just keeps demonstrating, and will hopefully keep continuing to do so until Keanu Reeves is an octogenarian. Guns Akimbo is clearly reaching for such heights — while also taking inspiration from Battle Royale, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and the much less successful Keanu-starring and -directed Man of Tai Chi — but proves sorely lacking in the style and flair department. The trouble with largely forgoing any substantial plot or depth in favour of an overblown look and feel is that, if a movie misses its mark, it just comes off as empty rather than exhilarating. That's the case here, in a film that aims for wild but settles on obnoxious and grating.
The one saving grace: Radcliffe, aka the likely reason that this flick even exists. On paper, watching Harry Potter fight for survival with guns bolted to his hands sounds like an entertaining prospect — and the former Boy Who Lived certainly gives his part more depth than the script or premise calls for. He's been doing that, of late. Finally free of his childhood altercations with Voldemort in one of the biggest movie series there is, Radcliffe has since gravitated towards out-there roles that he's been giving his all. See also: his turn as a farting corpse in Swiss Army Man, and his work as both a hapless angel and a floundering medieval prince in anthology TV series Miracle Workers. But he can't save Guns Akimbo from its worse impulses, and nor can Flight of the Conchords' Rhys Darby in a brief appearance as a homeless man. As for Weaving, who was such a standout in last year's Ready or Not, she's more on the movie's wavelength: cartoonish, ridiculous and in pure wish-fulfilment territory.