GUNS AKIMBO launches into the action from its very first frame. Our narrator is Miles (Daniel Radcliffe) a put-upon video game developer who hates his job; he is under the thumb working on a money-spinning hypercasual game that he has no respect for. His boss bullies him. His long-term girlfriend Nova (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) has left him (probably). When he’s home alone in his flat, he gets hammered and taunts people, that he considers beneath him, online. And then one day, his activities gets him mixed up with the people who run Skizm.
Skizm is the film’s real-world illegal death-match fight club that runs continuously online. It pits one single fighter against another and the scope of its gameplay ranges across an unnamed American city. What its audience doesn’t know, nor care about, is that the people behind Skizm use threats and blackmail to choose who fights whom and when. Miles discovers the hard way what kind of deep-level coercion is involved, when he is kidnapped and forced to fight Nix (Samara Weaving). She is the best fighter to ever play the game. Her ratings are through the roof. She is a speedy, fearless, psychotically-lethal opponent. And Miles is a physically unimpressive, poorly co-ordinated keyboard warrior. The match-up is ludicrous. He will need all his wits, and extraordinary luck, to win this fight.
This new action comedy film is written and directed by New Zealand director Jason Lei Howden. Best known for his horror-comedy debut DEATHGASM (2015), everything about this movie is set to impress a broader international audience. The action and effects are solid. The world of video games is the template for many of the visuals and aesthetics of the movie. Although the game has real participants, the fact it is online, has a soundtrack that features the running dialogue of the Skizm casters, displays the scores ticking over and contains a cartoonish level of the violence, make it purposely less confronting for the movie’s audience. Miles facing down uniformed and masked assailants is the equivalent of you or me playing a first-person shooter. This is all handled with skill and efficiency reminiscent of Edgar Wright’s SCOTT PILGRIM VS.THE WORLD (2010).
The script is a wry comedy with a thread of social commentary running through it. Miles seems to be a decent guy, but he is about to be tested by an extreme situation. Howden’s portrait of pre-Skizm Miles and the effects his experience has on him, raises some interesting questions about how we use games and the Internet and the overall effect it has on our perception of what our lives are for. Howden’s direction and pacing is noteworthy; the heartfelt moments land and so do most of the quieter physical comedy sequences involving Miles. This has the net effect of keeping us guessing about the take or angle of any new scene.
Daniel Radcliffe last played Harry Potter in 2011. And although he will always be known for that role, he has done a sterling job of playing a variety of stage, television and film roles. Here he delivers a centred lead character who easily captures our attention and holds it. He is a young, but veteran actor, who knows how to play a likeable character and connect with the audience.
Australia’s Samara Weaving as Nix, plays her most blood-thirsty character yet. Interestingly, certain folks keep employing the old-fashioned term Scream Queen to note Weaving’s horror-adjacent roles, but this is wide of the mark. As in THE BABYSITTER (2017), MAYHEM (2017) and READY OR NOT (2019) you don’t remember her characters for their scream-power. She is the go-to-actress for wielding weaponry in this Blumhouse-influenced, genre-flick era we are living in. She and Radcliffe have good chemistry in their scenes together.
Natasha Liu Bordizzo (THE SOCIETY) is given relatively little to do, which is slightly disappointing. Ned Dennehy creates a fine, maniacal bad guy. Comedian Rhys Darby makes a welcome cameo appearance. And Grant Bowler is in there briefly, for Australasian oldsters like myself who remember television’s Blue Heelers and Outrageous Fortune. Performances are on point. We are kept entertained.
GUNS AKIMBO refers to the “dual wielding” of weapons. Apparently not recommended by your sword or gun warriors in real life, but history tells us it’s an absolute necessity in the movies and then in games (i.e. it looks cool).. Who do we praise or blame for this? Director John Woo? Shall we discuss the use of the New York Reload? Or shall I just get on with this review. Yeah, fine.
As Howden’s title hints, this is about a heightened, unreal world; something of a sandbox game. The metropolitan setting is like Resident Evil’s Raccoon City. Real people are mostly sidelined non-player characters. Film Influences like THE RUNNING MAN (1987) and JOHN WICK (2014) are buried in there somewhere, too. Although the way characters go through violence and damage has more in common with movies, games and comics, there is no fourth wall to be broken. There are human emotions at stake with these characters and if they die, they won’t respawn. The sum of all this genre-mashing is an exciting, clever, funny 1 hour and 35 minutes at the movies. My rating (9/10)