Guns Akimbo (2019)

I have to be honest, I didn’t actually think I would *SEE* Guns Akimbo, much less bother typing up a review for it.  There’s many reasons for this – the most prominent of which is that Jason Lei Howden has previously harassed me for talking about Deathgasm online, and he’s told me that I don’t deserve to watch his work.

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i’m going to frame this one day

This past week Howden engaged in targeted harassment of two film critics on twitter, after inserting himself into some online drama that had nothing to do with him, which I wrote about here. Many people thought perhaps that this would be the end of Guns Akimbo, but Saban Films kept schedule with releasing the film, though they did decry his outbursts online.

Now, I hesitate to write this review, because obviously, I have history with Jason Lei Howden. However, I did want to check out Guns Akimbo, out of morbid curiosity and I’ve recently had someone accuse me of being unwilling to “give the film a chance”. Which, fair enough, I *should* watch it, right? And so I did. And here’s what I thought.

(this review contains spoilers)

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Guns Akimbo stars Daniel Radcliffe playing Miles, who is a mild mannered boring computer programmer who designs code for a mobile phone game called Nut Bust. He’s got no girlfriend, a dead end job, and is decidedly miserable. He spends his time masturbing, eating snacks, drinking beer (don’t we all) and trolling people online. When he trolls the online forum for Skizm, a real time video game, where contestants compete in a city wide death match that is live streamed online, he finds himself an unwilling participant in the game.

He faces off against Nix (Samara Weaving), a cocaine addicted, neck tattoo bearing, edgy-one-liner-that-would-put-Joss-Whedon-to-shame-cracking, criminal maniac who is trying to have her record expunged in exchange for her Hunger Games style participation in Skizm.
As the two face off through the city, they soon realize they have a common enemy and vow to take down the Skizm organization in order for Miles to save his ex-girlfriend Nova.

That’s the basic plot of Guns Akimbo, there isn’t much to it. The film is shot very similarly to Deathgasm – it’s over saturated with a touch of grain to it – just enough to make the scenery feel a bit gritty, which isn’t entirely bad. The problem here is that this style of filmmaking was very popular a few years ago and now makes the film appear to be slightly dated. The whole synthwave 1980s retro throwback got done to death with films like the utterly magnificent MANBORG, the slightly less magnificent Kung Fury, and pretty alright TurboKid.
I felt like Deathgasm had a very similar look and style as well, but it appears like Howden’s filmmaking seems to hit that same note again here in terms of aesthetics. Which fair enough, if that’s your style, you’re the director, you do you. It just looked.. old.

Everything is sped up in Guns Akimbo, and you feel a bit like you’re on a low dose of Ritalin while you’re watching it. I remember this feeling from Deathgasm as well – just feeling oddly keyed up. As we are introduced to Miles, his voiceover tells us that he’s unhappy and we cut to social media overlays of rude comments being written online, and him seemingly entering a trance like state as he is writing them.
Now, subtlety is not something Jason Lei Howden works well with. The heavy handed commentary in the opening fifteen minutes, about how trolls online are *the worst* is clearly Howden striking out at his critics.

I felt like many of the jokes that were used, and then overused in Guns Akimbo were variations of the same edgy teen humor that made Deathgasm a chore for me. The dick and balls humor has not changed from Deathgasm – The game that Miles codes for is called “Nut Bust”, the viewers of the Skism livestream are all stereotypes – with the stand out ones being a group of shirtless oiled up muscle dudes holding each other with the onus on the viewer to have a bit of a laugh at the homoerotic nature of same. There’s shots of Daniel Radcliffe’s pissing penis, and Miles eats an old hot dog off a used condom in the street. Heh heh dicks.

Daniel Radcliffe’s portrayal of Miles didn’t do much for me. The unfortunate part being is that I just don’t know if Daniel Radcliffe has the acting chops for a movie like this. I refuse to watch Swiss Army Man, but I did enjoy him very much as a “Nazi” in Imperium. I don’t know that he’s entirely typecast due to his role in Harry Potter, but I just don’t think he managed to do this role justice. That said, I think he worked with what he was given, playing the nerdy incel type almost to a fault.

Samara Weaving’s Nix is your stereotypical edgy goth gf, she rocks around shooting people with her coke snooter hanging out of her nose, stopping to put on heart shaped glasses, wearing vampire grills that would put Avenged Sevenfold to shame, making masturbation jokes (after getting her fingers shot off, she wisecracks “Friday nights won’t be much fun anymore”, and it’s worth mentioning that her shot off fingers make the Deathgasm hand logo), and she “powers up” like Mario when she does cocaine. I’m sure to a teenager, this would be the ultimate epitome of cool. She looks like something someone might craft up in Fortnite. She’s a never ending badass, but her cheesy one liners overshadow any of Weaving’s natural acting talents.

Miles’s exgirlfriend Nova is a manic pixie dream girl, portrayed as a very uwu kawaii mess that falls disappointingly short of the Ramona Flowers / Clementine Kruczynski mashup that she is supposed to be.

The cartoonish villains that make up Skism feature Riktor as the lead ghoul, and he is a Snidely Whiplash / Senator Palpatine mashup, while his goons look like the people who bust through Neo’s door in the Matrix looking to get high on information.

There’s a homeless character named Glenjamin who becomes Miles’s Mr. Miyagi of sorts, and there’s a moment where Howden could have escaped the stereotype of homeless people as substance users by choice, as Glenjamin chides Miles for judging him on his homeless status by saying “I could be homeless after my software startup crashed” and Miles apologies and asks “Really?” and Glenjamin immediately says he just likes smoking crack and partying.

I honestly really dislike when films insist on going for that easy target, that low hanging fruit, insisting on punching down. It seems so cheap. Yeah, haha, roll on snare drum, let’s all laugh about it, but I feel like, there was room for something a little deeper in that interaction, but I’m asking way too much from a film that casually throws in a hard R word. Nix calls Miles by it, and he admonishes her for using it saying she can’t use that word because it isn’t okay. The onus on the audience to laugh at Miles for seeming like a loser for being offended by a slur in the middle of a gun fight.

I find that humor that relies on very tired stereotypes is exhausting, and combined with the pace of Guns Akimbo, I found myself again, like with Deathgasm, exhausted only 30 or so minutes in, feeling incredulous that I wasn’t even halfway through the 1hr 40 min run time.

The song choices are bizarre – 3TEETH covering “You Spin Me Right Round” and “Ballroom Blitz” (which I always like to hear 3TEETH so perhaps Howden and I can at least share that in common. He also likes HEALTH, so maybe we aren’t so different after all) to Rick James’s “Superfreak”, to other Marvel movie esque jacked up but still cutesy fight scene songs. Now, I’ve said it before and I will say it again, but I hate those cutesy Marvel song pairings with their CGI battles. I know they’re coming, and they just make me feel like I’m in an epiode of Black Mirror and so to see that played out in this supposed “indie” darling, I really started checking my watch.

This whole film played out like someone’s Spotify on shuffle at a coked up Nintendo Switch session and it wasn’t.. charming? It was just off-putting. I feel like I’m being pandered to, like Howden is adopting the mantle of “gaming” culture, skinwalking it just like he did with heavy metal culture in Deathgasm.
There’s an uncanny valley where the whole thing just feels, slightly off. Like, I love all the things that this film claims to be about, and I’m arguably one of the people it should be for, the person who should be eating it up (drama aside of course), and just like with Deathgasm, I just can’t get myself there.

And for a film that claims to be about online bullying, there is little commentary regarding same. Miles starts of his life as a troll, and he ends up paying for his sins by having guns bolted to his hands by the real “bad guys” who enact Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back justice on their detractors by showing up at Miles’s home. So, that leaves me with the question of who are the actual bad guys? If Miles is the bad guy, then Skizm are the what, the bigger bad guys? Isn’t Miles the hero character then?
Do you want trolls to be the villains or the heros?
The question goes back and forth and unfortunately, these two pieces cannot simultaneously be true.

But, just to not be entirely negative, let’s talk about some of the things I did like about Guns Akimbo:

-I thought the fight scenes were nicely shot.

-I always enjoy seeing Samara Weaving.

-I liked the art work on the comic book cover for the Guns Akimbo comic at the end of the film.

Final thoughts:

Guns Akimbo claimed to have something to say, but like the guy at the party who got too high on his own supply, forgot about 25 minutes in, and was drowned out by beautifully choreographed gunfire set to howling synthwave.

Drunk in a Graveyard rating 1/6
I liked Guns Akimbo much better when it came out in 2009 and was called Gamer starring Gerard Butler.

Similar films: MANBORG, Kung Fury, TurboKid, Gamer, The Meg, any of the Ipman films, Suicide Squad, The Matrix, Hardcore Henry, John Wick, The Kingsmen, Lady Snowblood, The Running Man.

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5 responses to “Guns Akimbo (2019)

  1. I just saw the film myself and thought pretty much the same as you. Fair review 👍
    It’s a rainy hangover day kinda movie at best.

  2. Even before reading about the director’s behavior, I was a bit dubious about this film. Daniel Ratcliffe’s attempts to avoid Harry Potter child actor wholesome typecasting always come off in a super try hard, contrived way, be it appearing nude on Broadway or trying to slump his way through an over the top edgelord adjacent action “comedy”. He needs to call Elijah Wood for some transition to adult roles pointers or something.

    Would you say “Guns Akimbo” is a wait until it’s streaming somewhere and I have already run out of new genre releases sort of movie? Is that fair?

    • Another commenter said it best here, I think – it’s a rainy day Sunday hangover movie. I watched it seriously about halfway through and it got boring so I scrolled on my phone through the last half. It would probably be okay with some beers just chillin.

  3. It sounds like it has all of the aspects that made “Deathgasm” such a simultaneous bore and dumpster fire–the writer/director seems to have no concept of what makes the things he supposedly likes good (metal, horror, action) and it’s try-hard edgelord nonsense that is super dated. I think Radcliffe is doing a good job on “Miracle Workers”, not sure why he signed up for this mess.

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