'Guns Akimbo': Film Review | TIFF 2019

Courtesy of TIFF
Loud, fast, acrobatic and uninvolving.

Daniel Radcliffe and Samara Weaving play strangers trying to kill each other in a video game-like actioner by Jason Lei Howden.

One doesn't expect subtlety from a filmmaker whose first (surprisingly amusing) movie went by the title Deathgasm. And one certainly doesn't get it from Guns Akimbo, the second, higher-stakes feature by Jason Lei Howden. A gamer-geared shoot-'em-up starring Daniel Radcliffe and Ready or Not's Samara Weaving, it's somehow exhausting but not exhilarating, a nonstop chase scene that would be a good deal more fun if not getting caught seemed even like a one-in-a-million prospect.

Another in a string of offbeat choices for Radcliffe, who, like Elijah Wood, appears to be pleasing himself after spending years pleasing the masses (and more power to them both), it's certainly not for most Harry Potter fans. Unfortunately, it'll leave many bizarro-action fans wanting more as well.

Radcliffe plays Miles, a mopey coder who, since his breakup with Nova (Natasha Liu Bordizzo), has found pleasure in little but getting drunk and stoking the ire of online trolls. He's taunting the fans of an odious new phenomenon called Skizm — in which viewers watch real-world death matches conducted on the streets of Shrapnel City — when Skizm bites back: The site's operators, a crew of Road Warrior rejects led by the face-tattooed Riktor (Ned Dennehy), show up at Miles' apartment and knock him out. When he awakens, he has both his hands attached to firearms — steel bolts pierce his palms and fingers — and is told he'll have to fend off Skizm's star assassin, a fury called Nix (Weaving).

Miles is still trying to figure out what a person with guns for hands can do — urinate gracefully is not one of those things, though he might've thought of sitting down to do it — when Nix arrives, looking truly demented with metal-capped canine teeth and bleached eyebrows. (It's a brave actor who willingly goes without eyebrows; those of us who've enjoyed Weaving's work may wish we could crowdfund another pair for her to wear in the second act.)

The trouble is, we've just watched Nix kill a dozen hardened criminals without breaking a sweat; hell, she did some serious John Woo nonsense in a car chase/gunfight while she had a hoodie fully obscuring her eyes. So the idea that the physically hopeless Miles can dodge her first shots, then evade her again, then keep up that miracle-man act for an hour, is so beyond the pale it makes continuing to invest in the action a serious challenge.

Those who manage that feat will then need to believe that Miles can (a) work his phone with his nose and (b) somehow fail to communicate his situation to anyone who might help. Nova maces him as soon as she sees his gun-hands, then gets herself kidnapped by Riktor, whose lightly comic exasperation with his imperfect henchmen is proving to be the one nuanced thing in the film. So now Miles must, in what Riktor calls a "lightning round," save Nova while simultaneously fending off Nix. Oh: And while Miles' firearms have just 50 rounds each, no reloading, Nix seems to get a whole new arsenal every time she reappears. (And these are weapons — bazookas, rotary cannon — you can't just pick up at the bodega with your energy drink.)

The ingredients for an engagingly ridiculous action pic are here, but the pacing's all wrong. Though we know in our hearts Nix and Miles will somehow team up, the two share no moments that make such a truce seem plausible, or that prepare us to enjoy it when they do. Their conflict, live-streamed by an army of Skizm's drones, is attracting a huge number of viewers, whose comments scroll across the screen; if you're a person who can be entertained by the things these nitwits say, maybe you don't need to spend 15 bucks on a movie.

Increasingly, nods to the gaming world put a viewer in mind of Edgar Wright's Scott Pilgrim, which, though not for everybody, combined a savvy sense of gaming aesthetics with old-fashioned storytelling skills. Indications here are that Howden, whose roots are in visual effects, understands that garish colors, bullet-time and an insanely mobile camera (seriously: some sequences cartwheel in ways you probably haven't seen) aren't all you need to make a movie. Here's hoping he gets another shot at getting the balance right.

Production company: Occupant Entertainment
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Samara Weaving, Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Ned Dennehy, Grant Bowler, Edwin Wright, Rhys Darby
Director-screenwriter: Jason Lei Howden
Producers: Joe Neurauter, Felipe Marino, Tom Hern
Director of photography: Stefan Ciupek
Production designer: Nick Bassett
Costume designer: Sarah Howden
Editors: Zaz Montana, Luke Haigh
Composer: Enis Rotthoff
Casting directors: Dixie Chassay, Isabella Odoffin
Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (Special Presentations)
Sales: Endeavor Content

97 minutes