'Guns Akimbo' Review: A Gaming Satire That Indulges In What It Critiques [TIFF]

"You like this?!" asks Daniel Radcliffe's Miles to a covert camera live streaming his misfortunate adventures as he fights for his life. It's a breaking point for him as a character in Guns Akimbo, and he launches into quite the screed about the cowardice of the viewers who cheer on imperiling people from behind the remove of their screen but could never face a similar situation in their own lives. In a smarter movie, Miles might also be addressing us, the audience, with his impassioned rant. After all, haven't we, too, been watching his plight voyeuristically and getting a kick out of his misery?

But Guns Akimbo just never quite goes that extra mile. Jason Lei Howden's film, a clever and entertaining ride all the same, cannot claim the mantle of the Verhoeven-style thrillers he wants it to emulate because it misses this final intellectual step. Howden mostly limits his 95 minutes of screen time to covering the wild exploits of Miles as he's thrown into the live-streaming death match game Skizm ... with guns bolted irremovably to his hands. For a film that ultimately wants to land a critique of similarly dangerous Internet phenomena, the film mostly resembles the experience one might get from watching Skizm. It's more Hardcore Henry than Robocop.

Howden does pick up on some of the sly humor of someone like Verhoeven, yet he undercuts that same comedy by indulging in the very pleasures it tries to criticize and satirize. This lack of self-awareness weighs on Guns Akimbo, which wants to be so much more than just another installment of video game-style action brought to life. If there wasn't a sense that Howden wanted his film to represent a higher class of action film, perhaps there wouldn't be that feeling of hollowness left when the credits roll. We wait for that critique of how passive spectatorship enables violent, fascistic forms to arrive, and it just never does. There's a light, diverting action film that might have been pure cinematic bliss had Howden better aligned his ambitions with what worked on screen.

That this emptiness of Guns Akimbo is merely an asterisk on the film, not the entire takeaway, serves as a testament to just how much Daniel Radcliffe's performance elevates the film. As Miles, Radcliffe brings immeasurable charm as a soy boy beta male videogame developer thrust into a situation far beyond his wildest imagination. As it turns out, after a decade of playing the extraordinary Boy Who Lived in the Harry Potter series, Radcliffe is hitting his stride playing the regular joe.

Guns Akimbo glides on the strength of Radcliffe's work, which is equally committed to selling a self-deprecating verbal barb as it is to executing an extended bit of physical humor. The film gets a lot of mileage from the sheer ridiculousness of watching Miles try to perform mundane tasks in his apartment – put on clothes, use his cellphone, open the door, urinate ... all of which he must do without firing one of the 50 shots inside each of the guns on his hands. Radcliffe never loses a sense of exasperation and incredulity, no matter how long his misadventure drags on. It helps that he's humbled throughout by his attire of a robe, duck-patterned underwear and giant tiger claw slippers. Radcliffe is all commitment, no vanity.

Miles gets quite the opponent in Skizm, too: the trigger-happy assassin Nix, played by Ready or Not breakout star Samara Weaving. She shares none of his qualms with perpetrating the online violence he cheers from behind his computer in real life. As a foil for Miles' "cuck lord" sensibilities, she provides consistent fun while emasculating him. Yet Nix, while entertaining to watch let loose, does not enjoy the same level of character development as Miles. She's rabidly anti-surveillance, but Howden never really provides sufficient detail or backstory as to why she shoots down every Skizm drone that aims to film her behavior. Like much of Guns Akimbo, she's a rip-roaring good time on the surface but doesn't contain nearly as much substance as hoped when you drill down beneath.

/Film rating: 6.5 out of 10