In ‘Guns Akimbo,’ Daniel Radcliffe Discovers That EVERYTHING’S Gone Akimbo

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CREDIT: Saban Films

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Samara Weaving, Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Ned Dennehy, Rhys Darby

Director: Jason Lei Howden

Running Time: 95 Minutes

Rating: R for Big Booming, Bloody Effective Gunfire and An Awkward Attempt to Use the Toilet

Release Date: February 28, 2020 (Limited)

If some goons bolted a couple of huge black pistols to your hands and then forced you to fight in a live-streaming death match, what would you do? That’s the setup for writer-director Jason Lei Howden’s thought experiment/action bonanza Guns Akimbo. Presumably, for many of us, the answer to this question would be what happened to Daniel Radcliffe’s video game developer character Miles, which is to say: run around in a panic, get really stinky while struggling to put on pants and go to the bathroom, and maybe survive for a little while by relying on instinct and adrenaline. What is perhaps less likely is where Miles ultimately ends up, which is summoning all he’s got to turn the tables on the freaks running this game. Maybe most people in this predicament would wind up dying within five minutes, but that’s why this story isn’t about them.

With movies about these sorts of illicit underground sensations, I always wonder about the larger context. Is the rest of the world just carrying on normally, or this some sort of dystopia, or maybe a mini-dystopia in a town that can’t think of anything better to do than have its citizens kill each other? The game in Guns Akimbo takes place wherever its players go, so there is a vibe of massive violence occurring in plain sight. Actually, it’s not a vibe so much as an actuality. To wit, when Miles goes to his office to get one of his co-workers to help him out with something, there ends up being a massacre with plenty of collateral damage. There’s not a whole lot of context-setting, but I think we get just enough to understand that the deadly consequences are unpredictable and indiscriminate, though only a small percentage of the world is obsessed with the carnage.

Keeping Miles on his toes is his opponent Nix, played by Samara Weaving in a profoundly disaffected style that’s miles away from her wonderfully hysterical work in Ready or Not. She’s got herself constantly numbed by drugs, all the better to keep herself focused on blasting away any comers with panache and to not be overcome by the emotional scars of her tragic backstory. Eventually, she and Miles realize they have more in common than they thought, and that leads to a fairly satisfying climax. But really, the main attraction is seeing how Miles figures out how to do fairly simple tasks with huge pieces of metal blocking his hands. At one point, a homeless man played by Rhys Darby offers him a hot dog but refuses to slip it into his mouth, and you can never know how cruel that is until you see it. How Miles was not constantly fainting from the pain, we may never know. The human body’s fight to survive can be quite resilient.

Guns Akimbo is Recommended If You Like: Embracing that scuzzball lifestyle

Grade: 3 out of 5 Handguns

‘Jumanji: The Next Level’ is Worth It Mostly for the Actor-Persona Swapping

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CREDIT: Frank Masi/Sony Pictures Entertainment

Starring: Jack Black, Karen Gillan, Kevin Hart, Dwayne Johnson, Ser’Darius Blain, Madison Iseman, Morgan Turner, Alex Wolff, Danny DeVito, Danny Glover, Nick Jonas, Awkwafina, Colin Hanks, Rhys Darby, Rory McCann, Marin Hinkle

Director: Jake Kadan

Running Time: 123 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Intense CGI Animal Attacks

Release Date: December 13, 2019

Let’s be real: the biggest joy of 2017’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle wasn’t the game itself, but how it was played. I’m talking about the actors who played the video game avatars and how the conceit demanded that they depart so far from their typical personas. Dwayne Johnson had to act like a scrawny kid with allergies, Kevin Hart got to wonder why he wasn’t a foot taller, Karen Gillan was allowed to question the wisdom of midriff-baring in action scenarios, and Jack Black fulfilled his destiny by getting to play a superficial teenage girl. So if The Next Level, the third movie in this series (although let’s be real: this feels like the second movie, since the actual first movie is so far removed from these latter two, though I’ll do my best to call it the third. Also, side note: there’s a cameo of someone from the original film, but I didn’t even remember that she was in the original, so take from that what you will) wants to succeed, it ought to double down on that performance-with-a-performance framework, right? Definitely, although there’s also a hullabaloo about a plot and some frenetic action set pieces.

The Next Level, naturally enough, is about the next level in the video game, so it’s a little harder now for the gamers to successfully complete their mission of saving Jumanji. For us, that means a lot of the film is like watching someone else playing a video game, which can be enjoyable, but it usually doesn’t deliver the transcendence that cinema is designed to achieve. Maybe some viewers will really dig all this flying through the air and slamming into the scenery, but for me, it feels like an exhausting visual onslaught. Although, I must admit that the CGI-rendered ostriches and mandrills do look genuinely scary.

But back to the main attraction, as it behooves me to mention that Dannys DeVito and Glover have joined the Jumanji gang, and they have major parts, even when we don’t get to see their familiar faces. Glover plays Milo, former business partner to DeVito’s Eddie, grandfather to Spencer (Alex Wolff), whose lingering insecurity about life in general has led him to venture back into the game. His friends follow behind to rescue him, but since everything is a little haywire, Milo and Eddie are dragged in as well, and nobody gets to choose their avatars, though they also get some opportunities to switch around who’s playing whom. In Welcome to the Jungle, the young actors were not too well-known, so the actors playing the video game characters were playing types more than they were doing impressions. But now with the presence of some more familiar names, the routine gets to lean more toward impressions, which Hart, Johnson, and newcomer Awkwafina take full advantage of. Honestly, in this day and age of strife and division, the world would be a lot better if we all spent some time pretending to be Danny DeVito. So, in that sense, The Next Level is a net good.

Jumanji: The Next Level is Recommended If You Like: Watching other people play video games, Danny DeVito impressions, Danny Glover impressions

Grade: 3 out of 5 Life Bars