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“Guns Akimbo” Fetishizes Violence To A Disturbing Degree

Violent movies are nothing new to cinema. In fact, when done well, there’s an undeniably visceral thrill to seeing unspeakable acts in real life perpetrated in film. Video games have made a literal fortune with this sort of content, be it any number of shooting games, the Grand Theft Auto franchise, etc. Opening this week, the action comedy Guns Akimbo tries to merge the two formats, while attempting to satirize our silence obsessed culture. Unfortunately, it’s so ineptly handled that it comes closer to being offensive than it does to being a biting satire. This is one of 2020’s worst efforts, by far. (Editors Note: this is written independently of the film’s director Jason Lei Howden engaging in troubling online behavior. His Twitter rants are reprehensible, though not taken into account here. The flick is bad of its own accord)

The movie imagines a world where a game called Skizm has taken the country by storm. Social media users flock to their screens to watch two individuals fight to the death, as it all gets telecast like gladiatorial combat. Miles (Daniel Radcliffe) has no interest in it, but he does love trolling users online. However, one night he gets drunk and trolls on Skizm’s message board to the point where it gets the game’s head Riktor (Ned Dennehy) to pay him a visit. Being as Riktor is a murderous gang leader and Skizm is a front for their plan to take over the world, he doesn’t take too kindly to it. Miles is beaten, waking up the next day with guns nailed to both of his hands. Soon, he learns that he’s the next contestant in the game, facing off with Nix (Samara Weaving) the deadliest and most popular player. Nix is told that she’ll be given her freedom once Miles is dead, setting her off on what she thinks will be the easiest kill of her life. Of course, things are not that simple. Jason Lei Howden writes and directs, with cinematography by Stefan Ciupek and a score from Enis Rotthoff. Supporting players include Rhys Darby, Natasha Liu Bordizzo, and more.

Admittedly, the concept here has potential. It’s just the execution (no pun intended) that leaves so much to be desired. Howden’s screenplay and frenetic direction destroy any chance of Daniel Radcliffe or Samara Weaving, both talented performers, from making anything of it. Again, a story set in a world where social media has made a real life game into a smash hit, with violent consequences, is ripe material for a film. Just, not this one. Any attempts at calling online bullying or violence to the carpet is lost, as it comes way closer to celebrating these actions. Minus the gonzo turns by Radcliffe and Weaving, who at least try to have some fun, this is a disaster from top to bottom.

Guns Akimbo is over the top in the worst ways. Characters are dispatched with almost gleeful brutality, nothing is taken seriously, and it all just rings very, very, false. Quentin Tarantino has made a career in part out of stylized violence. The John Wick franchise is an orgy of violent killings. However, they don’t leave the taste in your mouth that this one does. The movie is, simply put, icky.

Starting tomorrow, Guns Akimbo will be hitting theaters and VOD. Saban Films has opted not to pull the release in light of Jason Lei Howden’s actions, choosing to let the contributions of the movie’s cast and crew not be discarded over the filmmaker’s poor choices. That’s all well and good, but the fact remains that this flick is atrocious. Any attention being paid to it is more than it deserves. The best bet is to just pretend like it never existed in the first place. The next time you see it, it’ll be on a list of my least favorite titles of the year.

Guns Akimbo is in theaters and On Demand this weekend.

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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