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Daniel Radcliffe becomes an unwilling participant in an online reality-TV death match in Guns Akimbo.

Courtesy of Mongrel Media

  • Guns Akimbo
  • Written and directed by Jason Lei Howden
  • Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Samara Weaving and Rhys Darby
  • Classification 18A, 98 minutes

rating

1 out of 4 stars

A cranked-up version of ... um ... Crank, Jason Lei Howden’s new hyper-paced, hyper-violent feature Guns Akimbo is a cinematic assault on the senses. And not in the thoughtfully nihilistic mould of Crank masterminds Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, either. More like the empty shock-value nothingness of, say, a Tom “Human Centipede” Six or Uwe “Postal” Boll.

Pitched as a bold and bloody skewering of social media, video-game addiction and our obsessive thirst for casual cruelty, Howden’s film gives itself a good three minutes to play the amateur satirist before it abandons any pretense of cultural commentary and instead embraces every cliché it repeatedly insists it is undermining. Its thoughtlessness might be endearing in a backward sort of way, were Howden not so reckless in his aesthetics and narrative. If there is a one-word skeleton key to unlocking Guns Akimbo, it might simply be: “sloppy.”

Streaming roundup: What’s new in films and television on Netflix, Crave, CBC Gem, Apple TV+ and Amazon Prime Video

The film’s lazy worthlessness is felt right from the top, when Howden introduces a world much like our own, except that everyone is addicted to an online reality-TV death match called Skizm, which pits various psychos up against one another until guts spill and viewership skyrockets. There is little explanation as to how the program evades the law or is funded yadda yadda yadda, but it certainly looks bright and flashy and is soaked in gore, which is enough for Howden, if not for any mildly skeptical moviegoer who dares ask for a crumb of narrative consistency.

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The film embraces every hyper-violent action-movie cliché it claims to be undermining, writes Barry Hertz.

Courtesy of Mongrel Media

Anyway: Along comes Miles (Daniel Radcliffe, a long way from Hogwarts), a nerdy video-game developer who is plunged into Skizm in the most perverse of fashions: a bunch of the show’s hired goons burst into his apartment and bolt pistols into both his hands, turning him into a real-life, and unwilling, first-person shooter video-game avatar. If Miles wants to live and save his kidnapped ex-girlfriend, he’s instructed by Skizm that he’s going to have to kill or be killed first. From there, it’s a series of poorly choreographed shoot-'em-ups, obviously telegraphed jokes and tragically excitable needle-drops (sorry filmmakers, but you can only use Dead or Alive’s You Spin Me Round (Like a Record) a maximum of one time per movie; that’s the law). Plus lots and lots of CGI blood.

Late in the film, Skizm’s chief bad guy – a face-tattooed dude named Riktor, who somehow runs this high-tech underground fight club even though there’s no evidence he would ever be able to marshal such resources; okay, okay, I’ll stop harping on the conceit’s total unbelievability – announces that “Murder is art! And this is a Jackson Pollock!” The line is meant to be a sick joke, of course. An ostensibly clever dig by Howden at his own audience’s insatiability. But there is only one thing connecting Guns Akimbo to Pollock: both are sloppy affairs. One is deliberately crafted. The other is just ... a drip.

Guns Akimbo is available digitally on demand starting April 28

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