Five seconds into the Gun Akimbo trailer I stopped it. I'd seen all I needed to see, this looked like a film that could be right up my alley. That's when the (rather long) wait started. Covid happened so a theater release seemed out of the question, I didn't hold my breath for streaming options either as Belgium is traditionally lagging in that regard. Luckily the good old physical market came to the rescue and Jason Lei Howden's second feature finally became an option. It's a good thing I never finished that trailer, I prefer to go in as blank as possible with films like these and Guns Akimbo really delivers.
Guns Akimbo is maximalist cinema. It's a term that's gaining a lot of traction these days and I'm more than happy to add to its bolstering popularity. Maximalist cinema is a categorization that doesn't focus on genre, rather it takes style and energy into account, grouping together films that are loud, extremely colorful, sporting lots of visual detail, deliberate camera work, excessive use of filters and whatnot. It doesn't matter whether it's a musical, hardcore action flick or wacky comedy, as long as it's extravagant and outrageous, it belongs. As it turns out, it's a pretty good blanket term for the type of films I like.
Howden aims for a pure action film here, though adds strong comedy influences, overt gaming aesthetics and some minor horror elements to make it more fun. If you want comparisons, think of films like Crank, Scott Pilgrim Vs the World and Shoot 'em Up. Colorful, adrenaline-driven and cheerful action flicks that don't even bother to try and tell a serious story, instead they focus on creativity, excitement and kinetics. That's not going to be to everyone's taste, but it's exactly how I prefer my action cinema.
The plot revolves around Miles, a somewhat pathetic game developer whose evening entertainment consists of going online and trolling others. That is, until one day he messes with the wrong guys. When he enters the Skizm website (a real life, streamed, game to the death) and starts his regular moral crusade, the Skizm guys strike back. They track him down, drug him, bolt some guns to his hands and drop him in the middle of their game. His only way out is to kill Nix, a female champion who is raking up the kills and has a daunting track record. Meanwhile, Miles can't even put on his own pants with the guns attached this his hands.
Maximalist cinema is all about style, so be warned that Guns Akimbo is quite the visual spectacle. Onscreen animation, excessive slow-motion, hyper-editing, nauseating camera work, color explosions, there's always something demanding attention here. Howden went all in which is sure to push some people away, personally I welcome the energy and vibrancy that drips from its every pore. The execution is also flawless. Not sure how Howden secured the budget, but technically it looks extremely accomplished, a big step up from his first film.
The soundtrack tries to accomplish something similar, but isn't quite as successful. The music is a little too poppy, even when Howden picks edgier versions of familiar songs (like 3Teeth's You Spin Me Round). Don't get me wrong, the soundtrack isn't bad and it works well in combination with the visuals. It's also obvious that time and effort went into editing them together for increased effect, but the music itself simply isn't crunchy and badass enough to match the visuals. While the intentions are good and the technical execution is solid, a better selection of tracks would've made a big difference.
I've got no complaints about the casting though. Daniel Radcliffe has been working really hard to shed his Potter image and his role in Guns Akimbo is another step in the right direction (after taking on remarkable roles in Horns and Swiss Army Man). But it's Samara Weaving who stands out the most. After striking performances in The Babysitter and Ready or Not, she's quickly establishing herself as one of the most kick-ass women in genre cinema today. The secondary cast is pretty great too, with Ned Dennehy delivering an insane villain and a truly hilarious cameo of Rhys Darby to look forward to.
Guns Akimbo is a film that takes a flying start. There's only a very short intro, after that Howden jumps right into the action. The biggest challenge for films like these is keeping up that energy and creativity and not playing all their best cards in the first half hour. Howden finds a good balance, inserting only a handful scenes where things slow down a little (smartly cushioned by adding some extra comedy) and a pretty solid spread of original ideas. Intensity wise it can't quite compare to a film like Hardcore Henry, but it's definitely not far off.
Films like Guns Akimbo don't come around very often. While they usually have little trouble finding an appreciative niche, they're too extreme and contemporary to attract a larger audience. That means most of the time the budget to create the insanity these films thrive on is lacking. So kudos to Howden for making it happen. Guns Akimbo is extremely energetic, in your face and funny, packing a couple of neat surprises, a splendid central duo and enough action to fill at least two 90-minute films. If you're looking for some madcap, over-the-top action, don't miss out on this one.