Daniel Radcliffe has made some interesting choices for roles post-Harry Potter. His performance as a magical corpse in Swiss Army Man made that one of the strangest and most enjoyable movies of 2016, and he established his horror chops in The Woman in Black (2012). In Guns Akimbo, Radcliffe draws on all the charm, physicality and intensity that served him well in those earlier roles, but the story isn’t smart enough to give him much to do with an underwritten character.

Miles (Radcliffe) is a sad-eyed schlub with an unrewarding tech job and an ex-girlfriend (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) who won’t text him back. He spends his downtime getting drunk, playing video games and rage-posting online. When he insults the wrong dude, he draws the attention of a sinister band of real-world psychos, known as Skizm, who livestream shoot-outs between modern-day gladiators on the streets of an unnamed city. They abduct Miles and knock him out, and when he wakes up, he’s got two semi-automatic pistols with extended magazines bolted to his hands. Not even Radcliffe’s utilitarian Swiss Army Man included the live ammo feature.

Exploring the aftermath of this absurd setup is where Radcliffe shines. With his hair-triggered handguns, his attempts to check his phone or pull up his pants become tense moments. These scenes inspire genuine laughs, as when he prevails upon a homeless person to help him eat a soggy hot dog he finds in the gutter (“You don’t have a vegetarian option, do you?”). In a bathrobe and boxers, with fuzzy bear claw slippers, Miles flees through the streets as his gladiatorial opponent, Nix (Samara Weaving), pursues him beneath the constant eye of Skizm’s live-streaming drones.

Written and directed by Jason Lei Howden, the movie’s irony rests on the premise of video game violence extending into real life. A recurring montage of rapt viewers seeks to drive home the point that we’re all desensitized witnesses to violence in any form. Yet the movie undermines that irony by slaughtering characters in a dizzying blur of head-shots and viscera, just like any first-person shooter game. Onscreen graphics add to the sense of cartoony dislocation. At times, it feels like John Wick stumbled into Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. If real-world violence is as swift and cinematic as video game gore, what difference does it make that it’s supposedly happening to real people?

As extreme as the circumstances are, the stakes seem low for Miles. The bad guys kidnap his ex-girlfriend to motivate him to play their game, but his own survival feels less urgent. Even if he wins this hellish contest, it won’t seem like much of a victory to go back to his old life. So why should we care about Miles? The answer is: because he’s Daniel Radcliffe. His shambly charm goes a long way towards making Miles likable, and gives you a reason to keep watching when all your instincts might be telling you to turn off your screen and go back to the real world.

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