A good filmmaker understands his or her influences and excels at weaving them into a seamless experience for an audience. Even viewers unfamiliar with the grand pastiche being woven for them in real-time, a good creator is able to transform 100 different threads and strands into a coherent vision. Even if you haven’t seen the most obscure pieces of cinema that directors like Quentin Tarantino or Bong Joon Ho reference in their work, they are able to use that inspiration to create something entertaining and unique.
On the other end of this spectrum is a film like “Guns Akimbo.” At first, it’s like a very distinct vision but ends up irritating and indistinct.
Miles (Daniel Radcliffe) is a typical lonely, lovable loser. He works as a programmer for a video-game company and is slowly coming to the realization his existence is useless. His hobby of choice is “troll hunting,” which involves going online and making rude comments to anyone he doesn’t agree with. Getting in virtual arguments on the internet occupies most of his waking thoughts.
The current pop-culture phenomenon seizing the zeitgeist is an online reality show called “Skizm,” where two random people are pitted against one another in life-or-death combat. After an online argument, Miles is visited by a group of crazies who kidnap him, attach guns to his hands, and enter him into the murderous combat of “Skizm.”
“Guns Akimbo” is a weird blend of a number of disparate influences. It’s a basic “Most Dangerous Game” premise waterboarded with Mountain Dew and force-fed a steady diet of cocaine and Looney Tunes. It’s like a movie that belongs to another era. To be specific, the years immediately following 1999’s “The Matrix”: Studios were trying to replicate the hyper-stylized video-game experience, which subsequently led to a lot of terrible movies.
Director Jason Lei Howden is making the same brand of cartoonish, super-violent action movies as directors Edgar Wright, Guy Ritchie and the team of Neveldine & Taylor and with disappointing results. The story’s beats and plot points feel predictable. Even with an inventive set-up, the basic elements of a hero’s journey are all present. Miles starts out as a keyboard coward and ultimately has to find the resolve to be a hero.
Though it can easily be described as a “video game” movie, from its frantic pace that readily adopts many elements of that medium, to call it one feels like an insult to video games. A good action video game is an immersive experience that can entertain for 10-20 hours. “Guns Akimbo” struggled to keep my attention for a measly 90 minutes.
Even with all the time available to us in quarantine, there are better ways to waste it than by watching “Guns Akimbo.”
“Rick and Morty” is a hugely popular animated subversive spectacle that evolved from late-night Adult Swim novelty to cultural phenomenon. Creators Dan Harmon (“Community”) and Justin Roiland have produced a show that manages to be both intelligent and insane, character-driven and conceptually brilliant. “Solar Opposites” is Roiland’s first project since achieving mainstream success with “Rick and Morty.” It shares many of the qualities that made its predecessor such a massive hit.
When a group of nomadic aliens crash land on Earth, they are forced to interact with human society while trying to repair their ship. It’s a premise that worked for shows such as “My Favorite Martian,” “ALF” and “Third Rock from the Sun.” However, in this version, the characters make no attempt to conceal their alien identity and have been awkwardly accepted by the community. Neighbors aren’t angry about the spaceship on top of their home, but their neighborhood HOA is enraged the paint on it doesn’t match the trim on the house.
Korvo (Roiland) is the moody, human-hating leader interested in getting the hell off the planet as soon as possible. Terry (Thomas Middleditch) is fascinated with the idiosyncrasies of human behavior and is more concerned with getting along than getting away. Roiland and co-creator Mike McMahan seem to be adhering to a much more traditional script. While “Rick and Morty” dabs in deconstruction and meta examinations of pop-culture and storytelling, “Solar Opposites” appears more interested in the traditional trappings of scripted television. Even though the animated style mirrors Roiland’s other show, the overall creative goals feel marginally different.
I say “marginally” because no matter how different many of the elements are, the show looks and sounds like Rick and Morty. Which is why some people might see “Solar Opposites” as a cheap knock-off. In spite of the similarities, “Solar Opposites” is entertaining enough to warrant its existence. Middleditch (“Silicon Valley”) does a great job making Terry an effective foil for the Rick-like Korvo. And the show’s penchant for “anything can happen” sci-fi inspired comedy makes it worth a watch.