Misfire, by Bob Connally

5 Mar

In the years since his final appearance as Harry Potter, Daniel Radcliffe has made interesting and admirable career choices. Steering away from other big franchises, he’s taken chances with live theater as well as smaller films and television shows. In one of the more unique films of the past several years, Swiss Army Man, Radcliffe played a talking corpse who becomes a suicidal castaway’s new best friend. Radcliffe’s performance is truly wonderful and one of the better and more memorable film performances of the past decade. Now he stars in Guns Akimbo, a new film with a premise almost as bizarre as Swiss Army Man’s, though it sadly lacks that movie’s imagination.

Miles is a young computer programmer frustrated with his life and work. Having recently broken up with his girlfriend, Nova (Natasha Liu Bordizzo), he blows off steam every night at home as a keyboard warrior, stirring up arguments with strangers in internet comments sections. Like many others, Miles comments on videos made by a company called Skizm. Skizm presents live death matches reminiscent of The Running Man in which violent criminals attempt to murder each other in public, recorded by drones. Millions watch these but Miles’ comments grab the attention of the man behind the matches, Riktor (Ned Dennehy). Riktor and some goons trace Miles’ IP address and assault him in his apartment and knock him out cold. When Miles awakes, he has guns bolted to both of his hands and he is left with a message that he now must face off with the deadly Nix (Samara Weaving), Skizm’s biggest star. If Miles can somehow kill Nix, he’s told Skizm will let him live, but that seems unlikely.

Written and directed by Jason Lei Howden, Guns Akimbo is an original screenplay but it feels as though it’s based on a graphic novel with a video game’s storyline. While the premise owes much to the aforementioned The Running Man, stylistically its biggest influence seems to be Crank, the silly but quite entertaining film from 2006 starring Jason Statham that deserves to be remembered more than it is. Sadly, as an action film it doesn’t stack up well against either. Before writing and directing his own films, Howden wore many hats on film productions for several years, most notably as a member of the visual effects teams on movies such as The Avengers and the Hobbit trilogy. The visual effects here are rather unpleasant to look at and don’t do the mostly unmemorable action sequences any favors. Occasionally, Guns Akimbo becomes the movie one would hope it to be, but these moments are all too fleeting.

Beyond the action, Howden wants to comment on violence- both real and in the media- as well as the internet and American society. None of what he uses Guns Akimbo to say here is new, which would have been fine if he said it in an inventive way but as it is, we’re just reminded of other movies that did this sort of thing better. Having re-watched the original RoboCop recently I can say with certainty that that is the right way to satirize the media and society in a violent action movie package. (That film also did action right.) One of the real problems is the contradictory ways Howden approaches violence. When Miles accidentally kills someone for the first time he’s horrified and through voice over narration he describes how it’s not like a videogame or a movie. Meanwhile, the blood looks decidedly like movie blood and the over the top nature of the violence feels decidedly like a movie. Later shootouts and kills are played for laughs so Howden seems to want it both ways.

As for Radcliffe, he does his best and is able to keep us at least somewhat engaged. There are some funny physical comedy sequences early on as Miles attempts to use the bathroom or put on pants with gun-hands. He also properly conveys the terror of Miles’ situation and while he has Commando and Rambo posters on the walls of his apartment, Miles is clearly no action hero. For this movie to work at all, we have to believe that Miles would never choose to fire a gun of his own accord and he sells that nicely. Weaving is fun to watch as Nix and her interactions with Radcliffe lift the film up a bit. Like Radcliffe though, she deserves better from the script and direction. The highlight of the movie however is one of its quieter scenes, in which Miles takes a moment to catch his breath and gets some help from a wild-eyed homeless man played by Rhys Darby. Darby makes the most of his brief screentime and it’s probably the scene where the movie most solidly clicks tonally.

As the film’s main villain, Riktor, Dennehy is meant to be menacing but he’s rather dull. His henchpeople have a little bit of flair but the lack of an interesting personality for Riktor is an issue. There’s also a cliched director character early in the film who is orchestrating the way the livestream of the death match is shot. He’s the stock self-important artist director we’ve seen a thousand times before. Riktor murders him in his first scene and if this were a smarter movie overall I would give Howden credit for cleverly dispatching the kind of character we all hate right away. Given the hit and miss nature of Guns Akimbo (which is an accurate pun), maybe that’s what he’s doing but I don’t feel confident saying that.

I continue to salute Daniel Radcliffe for choosing interesting and often strange projects. I also continue to enjoy watching the rise of Samara Weaving as an immensely talented and funny actress. Unfortunately, despite sporadically working, Guns Akimbo is inconsistent as an action movie and not as clever a satire as it wants us to believe it is. This one’s a disappointment.

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