One’s mileage with Guns Akimbo will very depending on how much one enjoys watching other people play video games. Jason Lei Howden’s action comedy wears its gaming aesthetics on its sleeve like a badge of honor. It gleefully embraces the kill or be killed mantra of shoot-‘em up titles while recklessly barrelling full throttle through numerous pop culture references.
Our guide through the hyper-active mayhem is a lowly video game developer named Miles (Daniel Radcliffe). The butt of his boss’ jokes, and still reeling from the end of his relationship with ex-girlfriend Nova (Natasha Liu Bordizzo), Miles’ real life is far from eventful. However, he views himself as a king when it comes to stirring the pot on the internet. A self-proclaimed hunter of trolls, Miles spends his free time provoking those who bring out the worst in online culture. Some of the nastiest can be found on the dark web site known as Skizm.
Streaming real death matches, Skizm has amassed a large online following much to the chagrin of the law enforcement officers who are determined to take down those responsible for the site. The toxicity that the site cultivates makes them the perfect target for Miles to antagonize. Unfortunately for Miles, one of his drunken rants pushes one too many buttons and provokes Riktor (Ned Dennehy), the head of Skizm, and his goons to pay him an unexpected visit.
The result is a dazed Miles waking up to the startling sight of having two guns bolted to his hands. Making matters worse is the fact that he has become the latest contestant on Skizm’s twisted game show of violence. Mile is given just 24-hours to kill Nix (Ready or Not’s Samara Weaving), the sites sadistic reigning champ, if he has any hope of being set free from this living nightmare. Of course, before he can even begin his quest, Miles must figure out how to do daily things, such as putting on pants, with guns for hands.
Howden’s film has plenty of fun with Miles’ predicament as everything from attempting to open a door to seeking help from police becomes a potentially dangerous endeavour. There is also the fact that Miles, a pacifist, is being pitted against a woman who can take out a room of people without breaking a sweat.
While the cartoonish violence has an entertaining charm, the action is not quite enough to sustain the film on its own. Once you take a step back from the kinetic pacing of the film, the thinness of the plot quickly becomes apparent. Howden never seems fully invested in exploring the world the film builds. One walks away with very little understanding of how Skizm came to be or learning much about the characters in general.
A badass individual like Nix end up feeling hollow despite Howden’s attempts to cram in a feeble backstory in the latter half. Frankly, Rhys Darby’s amusing cameo as the wise homeless man Glenjamin seems far more interesting in comparison.
Furthermore, Guns Akimbo frequently misses opportunities to offer a well-rounded experience. The film takes numerous jabs at social media bringing out our worst impulses, but never takes a breath to delve deeper. Much like Miles, Howden’s film indulges in everything it claims to hate. It frequently confuses the self-importance of “calling out others” online with making actual thoughtful and nuanced discourse. At no point does Miles even stop to think if he is even in the right side of a given issue, he just assumes his privilege gives him the ability to say what he wants without consequence.
By time the film reaches it conclusion, one feels exhausted and only partially satisfied. Those looking for mindless action and a killer soundtrack will no doubt love Guns Akimbo. However, the film aims to be more than that. Guns Akimbo takes aim at toxic online culture but ends up firing blanks.