Synopsis: A teen meets a mysterious man who claims he lost his superpowers after arriving from another dimension. Together, they take to the streets to wipe out a vicious crime boss and his local drug syndicate.
Stars: Joe Manganiello, Skylan Brooks, Zolee Griggs, Amy Seimetz, Glenn Howerton, Paul Scheer
Director: Adam Egypt Mortimer
Running Length: 90 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: Showing you just how much time truly has flown during this whole being cooped up in our homes for much of 2020 business, I could have sworn that Archenemy director Adam Egypt Mortimer’s previous film Daniel Isn’t Real came out earlier this year. Looking back at my reviews, however, points out that my write-up for that ambitious yet not quite satisfying mind-bending thriller came out a little over a year ago. Though I wasn’t ultimately sold on the merits of that film being a solid success, there were enough good ideas to keep me interested in seeing what Mortimer was going to get up to next and I guess I got my wish faster than it felt like I would.
For his third feature, Mortimer is changing things up a bit. While his first two movies Some Kind of Hate and Daniel Isn’t Real were more horror-oriented and co-written with Brian DeLeeuw (Paradise Hills), Archenemy has a different tone to it and that could be due to co-writer Lucas Passmore coming onboard. From the start, there’s a feeling that Archenemy, with its comic book animation prologue and noir-ish voice over narration from star Joe Manganiello is going to be something with an original spin and thankfully the screenplay and direction deliver that and then some. Though it shows some cracks here and there and takes a hair longer to find its rhythm, when Archenemy locks in on its target it can’t miss. And you shouldn’t miss it either.
I was a little scared at first that I’d mistakenly agreed to screen and review a completely animated feature…and not the kind of animation that has true movement to it but one with static images that sort of just slide. Y’know? It’s unsophisticated and rough, coupled with Manganiello (Magic Mike XXL) delivering some ultra-serious backstory about Max Fist, his galactic hero persona from another dimension and how he wound up crash landing on earth. Thankfully, the animation acts as connecting pieces of storytelling and turn out to be enjoyable bits of fantasy as the movie races through its brisk 90 minute run time. Eventually revealing this animated introduction morph into the live-action main feature, picking up Manganiello in the middle of a typical drunken rant. From what we gather, the ragged and homeless earth-bound Max will deliver his origin story to anyone that listens and it’s just the first way the screenwriters keep us guessing along the way if Max is truly who he says he is or if the guy is just felled with mental instability.
More on Max later because the focus soon turns to two siblings living different lives from within the same tiny apartment. Hamster (Skylan Brooks, Southpaw) wants to be a writer for a hot social networking site and winds up finding Max to be the perfect subject that will attract readers with his interesting tales of space warriors and battles from the stars being fought amongst the world population. On the flip side of things, his sister Indigo (Zolee Griggs, Bit) sees an opportunity to earn more money for the future by sidling up to The Manager (Glenn Howerton, The Hunt) a crime boss that takes a liking to her and gives her an opportunity to prove herself. As Hamster follows Max around and gains his trust, Indigo heads off on her first assignment…and that’s where the worlds of the two siblings begin their path toward eventual collision. When an encounter with a no goodnik (Paul Scheer) that’s holding a bundle of money goes south, Indigo finds herself with a target on her back, unwittingly involving her brother and Max in a war that’s closer to them all then they originally thought.
This is one film that was a nice surprise to find, not just because it has an almost jovial charm gleaned from its well-cast leads but thanks to an abundance of creative energy that helps it glow in key moments. There’s that constant question lingering on the sidelines of the action if Max Fist really is from another world and that helps create a nice sense of anticipation anytime the siblings get into a bind and need his help. Credit to Mortimer and Passmore for not chickening out when moving toward their resolution that sees the arrival of a mysterious blonde (Amy Seimetz, Pet Sematary and the director of She Dies Tomorrow earlier this year) with a connection to The Manager who looks an awful lot like Fist’s nemesis from a different solar system.
I think audiences that happen upon Archenemy will be in for a pleasant, if not entirely life-changing, fun time of a film and one that feels like an intelligent substitution for the blockbuster comic book hero movies we didn’t get this summer. Though smaller in scale than those big-budget behemoths, there’s something mighty aspirational at the core of Archenemy that gives it some tremendously fantastical and unexpectedly entertaining passages. A nice film for a laid-back weekend watch.