[EDITOR’S NOTE: Filmmaker Jason Wei Howden’s recent actions were not taken into account in this critique. This is solely a review of the work.]
A long time ago, the word ‘troll’ was synonymous with fairy-tale lore and creatures with an appetite for billy goats and under the bridge architecture. Now that we find ourselves hurtling into 2020 with no moral compass at hand, when you think troll, you probably imagine people sat behind their keyboards hurling abuse at 9-year-old bully victims or being deliberately provocative in order to stir up a faux debate about some aspect of PC culture. The Internet is great, yeah?
Self-described troll, Miles, is the protagonist of Guns Akimbo, the second film from New Zealand director Jason Wei Howden (Deathgasm). Played by Daniel Radcliffe (Swiss Army Man), Miles is unashamedly a keyboard warrior, using his time at work to serve ‘justice’ on people he considers the scum of humanity. Getting absolutely lit one night at home, Miles stumbles across Skism, an online and underground competition with a heavy focus on death and dismemberment. Fuelled by beer and self-righteous anger, Miles fires off a bunch of comments on the Skism website, drawing him to the attention of their leader, Riktor (Ned Dennehy, Tyrannosaur). Long story short, Miles wakes up in his apartment with guns bolted to his hands and a text message telling him he has 24 hours to kill Skism’s current reigning champion, Nix (Samara Weaving, Ready or Not), or he, himself will die. Unable to even put on a pair of pants or go to the toilet due to his new appendages means things aren’t looking too rosy for Miles.
If Deathgasm was Howden’s answer to the works of a pre-Hobbit Peter Jackson, Guns Akimbo shares a stable with the kind of self-aware movies that raise a cocked eyebrow to narrative conventions; films like Deadpool, Fight Club and, perhaps to a lesser extent, Wanted. When Miles’ ex-girlfriend, Nova (Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Hotel Mumbai), first enters the scene, our whiny protagonist is quick to point out that she is not part of the narrative simply so she can be collected like an ‘Xbox achievement’. In short, Guns Akimbo knows you have an idea how all this is going to end, so why don’t you put your feet up and just enjoy the ride?
And for the most part, Guns Akimbo is successful at what it does. As he did in Swiss Army Man, Radcliffe displays a gift for physical comedy. Unable to use his hands, Miles flails around, inadvertently firing his guns and surprising everyone around him, including himself. Weaving, for her part, looks like she is relishing inhabiting the psychotic, drug-infused Nix.
Their battle to the death is painted in swathes of neon, sugar-coating it all in FPS graphics and absurdist humour. And while bullets fly and blood spills, keep your eye out for cameos from Rhys Darby (Flight of the Conchords) and Miles Cawthorne (the aforementioned Deathgasm).
If we were to be honest, there are moments in the third act when the plot begins to rely on the very clichés it calls out and things start to drag a bit. Coming after the exhilarating first hour, this may come as a disappointment for some. The fact that Guns Akimbo just about gets away with is a testament to how much fun it is. This is, after all, a film where the hero runs around in oversized novelty slippers. It’s a movie where henchman panic that they can’t get their phone out of panorama mode when they should be filming their boss committing homicide.
In short, and in the best way possible, this is a silly film that just wants to show you a good time. You can’t argue with that.