Review: ‘Guns Akimbo,’ a neon-drenched nightmare

Courtesy Guns Akimbo
Miles, played by Daniel Radcliffe, desperately calls for help from two police officers in a still from the film.

The camera has just spun 360 degrees around Daniel Radcliffe for what feels like the tenth time in 30 minutes and my mind, too, has been sent spinning—not because of the blazing neon lights, screwball editing or the preposterous plot—but at the realization that I’ve actually just spent $7 on a film that features a juiced-up techno-remix of “You Spin Me  Round,” by Dead or Alive.

“Guns Akimbo,” directed by Jason Lei Howden and released Friday, Feb. 28 to lackluster acclaim, follows Miles, a video game developer with a penchant for anonymous online harassment, who finds himself roped into SKZIM, a death match streamed online to millions of viewers. Hunted by the bounty hunter Nix, Miles has to face his fears and confront SKIZM’s leader in order to save his ex-girlfriend.

Notably, the film was shrouded in one of the most peculiar Twitter controversies in recent memory.

After private messages leaked of Dilara Elbir, a non-black editor-in-chief of the zine Much Ado About Cinema, showing her using the N-word, Twitter users condemned Elbir, and some Much Ado About Cinema collaborators quit. Elbir posted an apology video suggesting an attempted suicide, as reported Monday, Feb. 24 by Vulture, New York magazine’s entertainment and culture site.

In response, Howden defended Elbir’s use of the N-word as a joke and called out journalist Valerie Complex and a blogger who goes by the pseudonym “DarkSkyLady” on Twitter saying, “These toxic, disgusting ‘film writers’ bullied Dilara Elbir from Much Ado About Cinema until she attempted suicide,” even though neither Complex nor DarkSkyLady had anything to do with it, Vulture reported. So followed 72 hours of volatile exchanges between Howden and others, from both his personal Twitter account and allegedly the film’s official account.

According to IndieWire, Howden’s actions pushed Saban Films, the film’s distributor, to release the following statement: “We are releasing ‘Guns Akimbo’ this Friday, February 28. While we do not condone, agree or share Mr. Howden’s online behavior, which is upsetting and disturbing, we are supportive of the film and all the hard work and dedication that has gone into making ‘Guns Akimbo.’”

To be completely frank, I dreaded the notion of watching “Guns Akimbo.” It included everything I hate in one sickening package: egregious, nauseating cinematography; sloppy plotting; cringe-worthy jokes—everything that haunts a film-lover’s dreams. Nevertheless, I held out, hoping that at the very least I could have a good laugh at the film’s absurdity.

Unfortunately, and no hyperbole is intended here, “Guns Akimbo” contains about as many laughs as a funeral. The humor in the film is entirely self-referential, dependent on an immediate awareness from the audience that they are, in fact, watching a movie, and as such, should hoot and holler when the main character’s house is referred to as a “fap cave.”

“Fap cave” seems to be a perfect summation of everything this movie is: repugnant, self-indulgent and so, so lonely.

The film, on paper, has a unique plot as far as action-comedy films go, but finds itself bogged down by its haphazard story. This film could function just fine as a piece of popcorn cinema, but as a result of a pretentious director, it loses itself in the drama. There’s an odd subtext beneath “Guns Akimbo,” referencing the dangers of online harassment and the pain bullying can inflict, which while sincerely important, is a bit hard to take seriously when wrapped up in the film’s irreverence.

“Guns Akimbo” in and of itself is eerily similar to what Howden’s tweets were: thoughtless remarks intended to heal, only to end up doing the opposite.

Coincidentally, the antagonist of the film is a director of sorts, so convinced of his own infallibility, he ends up destroyed at the hands of his own creation.

If that isn’t ironic, I don’t know what is.