'Archenemy': Film Review

Archenemy
Courtesy of RLJE Films
Cool vibes only go so far in uneven genre mashup.
12/11/2020

Joe Manganiello plays a homeless drunk who may or may not be an interdimensional warrior in Adam Egypt Mortimer's midnight movie.

Sharing DNA with everything from The Terminator and contemporary superhero films to The Fisher King and Liquid Television, Adam Egypt Mortimer's Archenemy is named for a villain who may exist only in the mind of a homeless schizophrenic. Joe Manganiello plays that man, who calls himself Max Fist and claims to be a hero who got stuck on our Earth after saving all life in some other dimension; that claim's truth may or may not matter to the aspiring blogger (Skylan Brooks) who wants to ride Fist's boasts to viral fame. A critique of post-millennial journalism is one of several ideas raised but mostly abandoned in this genre pastiche, which never really coalesces despite some promising elements.

Brooks plays a young man who calls himself Hamster — a self-proclaimed storyteller in search of an audience. He charms his way into a tryout gig for a hipster new-media outlet called Trendible. But his first attempts to document street life upset his sister Indigo (Zolee Griggs), a drug dealer who entered the game hoping to get Hamster into college and out of the hood.

If there's something less than believable about the family's dynamic, that goes double for Indigo's workplace, where a kingpin called the Manager (Glen Howerton) oversees a, well, heightened crew of bad guys. In a cameo as a coked-up dealer with a crown of barbed wire tattooed on his scalp, comic actor Paul Scheer makes it clear that verisimilitude isn't the goal.

Instead, the movie's going for a pulpy '80s vibe, albeit one with room for anime interludes that are cooler-looking than the animation that hit American movie screens that decade. These sequences (which seem appropriate for viewing under the influence) tell of a planet called Chromium, which was threatened by a supervillain named Cleo until the mighty Max Fist "punched through the molecules to create a vortex" in "the silence between space and time": Fist destroyed Cleo's planet-destroying weapon but, in doing so, was ejected from his dimension. Powerless on our plane, he lives on the street and spends a lot of time telling strangers in dive bars about his exploits.

Speaking in a growl that makes Christian Bale's Batman sound sheepish, Manganiello stumbles and slurs and digs discarded french fries out of trash cans. His rolling-in-the-gutter Fist is magnetic to Hamster, who first encounters the big lug as he's punching the hell out of a brick wall in an alley. He may or may not believe the stories Fist starts spewing, but he laps them up eagerly and shoots videos of his violent outbursts, calling them "splashworthy." He's pretty sure he can milk this loon for a full-time gig at Trendible, and his editor agrees. (A million out-of-work or perma-lance journalists now feel sick to their stomachs.)

So far so good. When Indigo and Hamster find themselves on the Manager's bad side, they have little choice but to believe in Fist, accepting his offer to go to war on the gangster. Mortimer's script stays on the fence, giving us reasons to doubt Fist's sanity while showcasing his obvious gift for violence. Man from another realm or not, his brawn and confidence might win the day.

But the final act, which leads our heroes to a mysterious woman played by a nearly unrecognizable Amy Seimetz, doesn't quite pay off in either action terms or mystery-solving ones. Some questions get answered, but not in very satisfying ways, and a promise of future action introduces yet another vibe to the already cluttered scenario. In Max's defense, maybe things sync up better in one of the other 11 dimensions he has navigated in his day.

Production companies: SpectreVision, 3:59
Distributor: RLJE Films (Available Friday, December 11, in theaters, on digital and on demand)
Cast: Joe Manganiello, Skylan Brooks, Zolee Griggs, Glenn Howerton, Amy Seimetz, Paul Scheer
Director-Screenwriter: Adam Egypt Mortimer
Producers: Daniel Noah, Lisa Whalen, Elijah Wood, Kim Sherman, Adam Egypt Mortimer, Joe Manganiello, Nick Manganiello
Director of photography: Halyna Hutchins
Production designer: Ariel Vida
Costume designer: Michelle Laine
Editors: Lana Wolverton, Chris Patterson
Composer: Umberto
Casting directors: Danielle Aufiero, Amber Horn

90 minutes