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Archenemy, Starring Joe Manganiello & Glenn Howerton (Sci Fi Movie Review)

Archenemy, Starring Joe Manganiello & Glenn Howerton (Sci Fi Movie Review)
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PLOT: A homeless drunk named Max Fist (Joe Manganiello) claims he’s a disgraced superhero from the planet Chromium. The only person who will believe his story is Hamster (Skylan Brooks), an aspiring young journalist that Max vows to protect when his sister Indigo (Zolee Griggs) gets in trouble.

REVIEW: Exactly one year after projecting the phantasmagoric horror fantasy Daniel Isn't Real, writer/director Adam Egypt Mortimer wastes no time presenting Archenemy (WATCH IT HERE / OWN IT HERE), an ambitious but uneven high-concept-low-budget superhero mystery about a flawed central figure who may or may not suffer from maddening delusions of grandeur. With a colorfully animated comic book tableau juxtaposed with a gritty sense of heightened realism, the film glancingly flirts with weighty themes and flashes moments of inspired salience through its scintillating premise, but too often gets in its own way and bogs down due to a lack of focus, monetary resources, and a poorly paced second act. Beyond the cryptic fulcrum on which the plot entirely hinges and the genuinely compelling performance by Joe Manganiello as the accessible yet aggressive antihero Max Fist, Archenemy firmly belongs to the club of well-intentioned but checkered superhero outings as Hancock, Chronicle, New Mutants, and the like. If those flicks tickle your fancy, give Archenemy a glance when it drops in theaters and on VOD Friday, December 11, 2020.

Max Fist (Manganiello) is a grizzled homeless man who spends his days barking in alleys while ingesting whatever illegal substance or alcoholic beverage he can find. One day he is met by a fame-hungry young blogger named Hamster (Skylan Brooks), who is the only person willing to believe Max’s outlandish story. Max tells Hamster that he is a mighty superhero from the planet Chromium, who fell to Earth after the defeat of his archenemy ripped a hole in the space-time continuum. Now powerless on Earth, Max spends his days in a drunken stupor under bridges and in filthy urban alleyways. Much of the movie’s compelling sway relies on this underlying mystery: is Max really a superhero or is he a mentally-ill schizoid suffering from chemically-induced delusions. At first, Hamster chooses to believe the wild tale for his own monetary gain by filming Max’s activity and venally exploiting it for viral fame at his millennial media outlet Trendible. So long as Hamster continues to provide booze, Max seems perfectly fine with it.

The action ratchets up when Hamster’s reluctant drug-dealing sister Indigo (Zolee Griggs) enters the scene. Indigo only entered the street-life to pay for Hamster’s college tuition and now finds herself in deep trouble with The Manager (Glenn Howerton), a foppish pencil-stached baddie whose comedic exorbitance seems to belong to another movie entirely. Through his clouded judgment, Max somehow believes The Manager is the same Archenemy he defeated in Chromium, leading to his vow to protect Indigo and Hamster from harm. Unfortunately, after the promising premise is introduced and several salient subjects vaguely touched upon, a tedious and tiresome second act domestic drama between Hamster and Indigo halts much of the movie’s momentum. Thematically, peripheral topics such as mental illness, millennials’ craven desire for viral fame, society’s blind dismissal of the homeless crisis remain in the corner of the viewers’ eyes. A shame, as these themes could have been plumbed with deeper results if given more time and a bigger budget.

Speaking of the budget, the explosive spectacle of most superhero films is replaced in favor of elaborate animation sequences redolent of the 1980s. However, the juxtaposition between the colorful cartoonery and the filthy cityscapes are more jarring than anything, and often distract from the narrative thrust of the principal plotline. By contrast, the best parts of Archenemy include Manganiello’s ambiguous turn as Max Fist and the overarching question of whether or not he’s telling the truth. In this regard, the movie reminds me of the little-known Brad Anderson joint Happy Accidents which also relies on such a crucial mystery. The only difference is in that film, Vincent D’Onofrio does not claim to be a superhero, but the final scene the entire film was building towards concludes with him doing the ultimate super-heroic act in a hugely satisfying payoff. In ARCHENEMY, the answer to the mystery is given much earlier in the story and as a result, hasn’t the same lasting impact.

But for his part, Manganiello owns the role and remains a pleasure to watch the whole way through. Nicolas Cage was reportedly slated to play Max Fist, as Archenemy is produced by the same people who gave us Mandy. While it would have been cool to see Cage in this role, Manganiello acquits himself extremely well as a flawed leading man who’s both physically imposing and emotionally vulnerable at once. Despite the mixed results of the story itself and the execution of such, Manganiello proves he deserves more starring roles in the future.

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