Since setting down his wand for the last time, Daniel Radcliffe has been challenging himself with a series of surprising movie choices, tackling horror (Horns), thriller (Imperium), drama (Kill Your Darlings) and avant-garde indie (Swiss Army Man). In his hyper-violent new film, Guns Akimbo, Radcliffe reinvents himself as an action star, albeit an unlikely one. Guns Akimbo casts him very much against type, but the gamble pays off, with Radcliffe a likable lead in this high-octane assault on the senses that plays like a cross between Crank and The Truman Show. It is as bonkers as that sounds.The film kicks off with some heavy exposition – told at breakneck speed – about Skizm, a reality show that streams online, and pits “psychos, weirdos and criminals” against each other in a brutal battle to the death. It’s far from an original concept, with The Running Man, Battle Royale, Series 7, Gamer, Death Race, and The Hunger Games all mining similar territory. But Guns Akimbo is shot and played with such commitment and energy that it’s a welcome addition to the twisted sub-genre.

Skizm is overseen by heavily tattooed villain Riktor (Ned Dennehy) – who looks less like a tech magnate and more like an extra from Mad Max – and the game has a few simple, vital rules: If you fail, you die. If you try to leave the city, you die. If you talk to the police, you die. But if you kill your opponent, you live.

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Nix (Samara Weaving) is the reigning champion, a cocaine-fuelled killer who has escaped from a mental facility, relishes profane one-liners, and frequently chooses a bullet to the balls over shots to the chest or head. Nix has dispatched all-comers, meaning Riktor requires a new opponent for his star, and turns to the comments section of Skizm for inspiration, where asthmatic nerd Miles (Radcliffe) – reeling from a recent break-up – has been drunkenly trolling the trolls.

To punish Miles – and to “teach his busy little hands a lesson” – Riktor and his suitably deranged goons kidnap him, BOLT GUNS TO HIS HANDS, and return the understandably distressed lad to his apartment. Just as Miles is coming to terms with his deadly new appendages – the toilet proving to be particularly challenging – Nix arrives at the door, and their deadly game begins. From here-on-in Guns Akimbo is pretty much a non-stop chase movie, with Miles – dressed in a bathrobe, boxer shots, and big furry slippers – running for his life from Nix, from Riktor’s goons, and from the police.

At times it’s an exhausting game of ‘cat-and-mouse’ as gun-fight follows gun-fight follows gun-fight. The film stops to catch its breath a couple of times, when Miles endeavours to win back his ex Nova (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) and stops for a chat with a homeless crack addict (a wildly comic turn from Rhys Darby). But they are brief detours, with the pace rarely letting up,which is sometimes to the film’s detriment, most notably during its drawn out climax.

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That said, the visuals are breathtaking throughout, writer-director Jason Lei Howden bringing kinetic energy to the action, with the Skizm drones in hot pursuit of the protagonists, and cameras ducking, weaving, diving and swooping down corridors, around rooms and through bullet-riddled streets.

The inventive imagery shouldn’t come as a surprise as Howden cut his teeth doing visual effects on the Avengers, Hobbit and Apes movies. And having made his directorial debut with devilishly funny horror-comedy Deathgasm, it’s also no surprise that there’s a rich vein of dark humour running throughout the film, most notably via hilarious bad guy Riktor. Guns Akimbo is also bathed in rich neon that’s a feast for the eyes, like some lurid comic book brought to life, while the soundtrack is filled with pop and punk classics that underscore the action in predictable, but suitably stirring fashion.

Yet while Radcliffe is a winning lead, convincing as meek Miles in the early scenes, and pulling off his transformation into lean, mean, if still somewhat clumsy killing machine in the final few scenes, the film belongs to Samara Weaving. Having impressed playing tough in Mayhem and The Babysitter, and more recently even tougher in Ready or Not, the Australian actress takes badassery to the next level in Guns Akimbo, delivering put-downs and death with dazzling dexterity. It’s a jaw-dropping performance that dominates proceedings, and will have audiences cheering her on, in spite of the truly appalling things Nix says and does.



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