Anyone who remembers (and who among us doesn’t?) the 11-year-old moppet Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter, strolling Diagon Alley and confronting Fluffy, will do at least a triple- (if not quadruple-) take at what’s he’s up to now. Guns Akimbo, the latest from Deathgasm (yes, Deathgasm) director Jason Lei Howden, is a high-voltage, super-frenetic bit of gnarliness that, while not earning a spot in the ranks of the year’s best, may well be its most memorable.
Radcliffe stars as Miles, a loner code monkey who spends his boredom-filled evenings trolling the message boards of Skizm, a viral, underground death match that pits two armed-to-the-gills sociopaths against each other. When one of Miles’ innocuous online comments rubs the Skizm brass the wrong way, they get their revenge by knocking him unconscious, bolting Glocks to his hands, and setting the reigning queen of the death matches, Nix (Samara Weaving), onto him. Mondays, amiright?
The fact that Miles is a puny little pacifist only makes his situation more dire—not to mention the fact that he was in his bathrobe and fuzzy slippers at the time and has no way (because, guns for hands) to put pants on. Plus, the only person he can turn to for help is his ex Nova (Natasha Liu Bordizzo), who wants nothing to do with him… and that’s before she discovers he has no pants and has guns for hands.
Howden, who also wrote the hella-bonkers, ultra-violent screenplay, turns up the craziness to eleven early on and never comes down. With innovative cinematographer Stefan Ciupek by his side, he gives us insanely dynamic visuals; the camera twists, turns, and tumbles even more than Miles does tripping over his own feet or falling down the stairs (which is often). That, and a steady Scott Pilgrim-esque infusion of on-screen graphics, gives Guns Akimbo the feel of the gonzo offspring of a retro comic book and Grand Theft Auto.
Radcliffe, who is also excellent in this month’s Escape from Pretoria, has definitely left his Nimbus 2000 far behind, content (and God bless him) to do whatever the heck he wants—often the crazier the better (see Swiss Army Man and Horns). Called on here to be an amped-up scaredy cat for the bulk of the film’s 95 minutes, he handles is with a brilliant mix of high-energy and, ultimately, resilience. Weaving, meanwhile, handcuffed with a role that allows for little more than an occasional sneer or lazy put-down, does the most with what she’s given.
The film itself, which spends the majority of the time at a steady 100 miles an hour, certainly could have benefited from periodic restraint—eventually the pace and the violence start to push the envelope into mind-numbing territory—but the overall experience remains a Molotov cocktail of madness and generally fun mayhem. You may never want to get into the head of someone who could not only devise this concept but also put it on film, but you can still be thankful to be let on board for one heck of a crazy ride.