Friday, February 28, 2020

The Notorious Guns Akimbo

Formalist critics would argue the tempest in a teapot this film stirred up in rather neurotic circles should be irrelevant to our consideration of the work itself. To some extent, they are always correct, because the most elemental critical question for any film is whether it is worth watching. However, the small, self-important echo chamber known as “Film Twitter” is unhealthily obsessed with this film. The irony is rich: it is a film about an online troll who is forced to compete in a dark web death tournament, directed by Jason Lei Howden, who started trolling the Film Twitter trolls who cyber-shamed another film critic into reportedly attempting suicide, reducing her life to one racially insensitive joke. The whole business is pretty ugly, but now the original trolls are claiming victim status for themselves. The consequences for trolling are much more severe for the hero of Howden’s Guns Akimbo, which is still opening today in New York, so let's try to address it in a calm, business-like manner.

Miles Lee Harris is a meek coder, who only feels in control of his life when he trolling, but he prides himself in only using his power for good. The dark web death-match site Skizm is just the sort of exploitative outfit that deserves his caustic dressings-down. Unfortunately, they have considerable technical resources and absolutely no sense of humor. Before he knows what hit him, Harris has been tracked and abducted, so their tech support could graft big honking guns on his hands. Much to his shock, Harris must fight to the death on Skizm, facing the ragingly psychotic Nix.

At first, Akimbo seems like another clone of the gaming-gone-deadly sub-sub-sub-genre represented by the so-so likes of Level Up and Beta Test, but the film really perks up when Harris starts to man-up, roughly halfway through. Frankly, the last twenty or thirty minutes are massively violent, but also a whole lot of fun.

Daniel Radcliffe does his nebbish thing, which is certainly appropriate for a sad sack like Harris. Ned Dennehy has a bit of a Sid Haig thing going on as the villainous Riktor, which is definitely cool. Natasha Liu Bordizzo overachieves with the under-written ex-girlfriend in jeopardy character, making her surprisingly dynamic. However, the real revelation is Samara Weaving gothing up and glamming down as the angry and lethal Nix.

cannot match the fist-pumping meathead attitude of Howden’s first film, the heavy metal horror comedy Deathgasm, but few films could. Still, he instills it with plenty of energy and obviously feels no need to apologize for the blood and mayhem. Frankly, the outside kerfuffle should never have reached the stage it did, starting with the initial preeningly righteous cyber-shaming pile-on. Frankly, Film Twitter should just chill out and go back to accusing anyone who didn’t absolutely love last year’s Little Women of being sexist. Recommended for what it is, for those who can deal, Guns Akimbo opens today (2/28) in New York, at the Cinema Village.