ARCHENEMY Movie Poster | ©2020 RLJE Films

ARCHENEMY Movie Poster | ©2020 RLJE Films

Rating: Not Rated
Stars: Joe Manganiello, Skylan Brooks, Zolee Griggs, Paul Scheer, Amy Seimetz, Glenn Howerton, Jessica Allain
Writer: Adam Egypt Mortimer, story by Adam Egypt Mortimer & Lucas Passmore
Director: Adam Egypt Mortimer
Distributor: RLJE Films
Release Date: December 11, 2020

ARCHENEMY is one of those movies that invites us to guess what’s going on for most of its running time. Is the man who calls himself Max Fist (Joe Manganiello) really a superhero from another dimension whose powers don’t work in this world? Or is Max a delusional homeless person, whose mental issues are being made worse by his alcoholism?

Max crosses paths with Hamster (Skylan Brooks) in L.A.’s inner city. Hamster is a high school dropout and would-be video journalist, trying to get traction with an online magazine. Impressed with Max’s fearlessness, Hamster starts to go viral by sharing Max’s tall stories with the general public.

At the same time, Hamster’s slightly older sister, Indigo (Zolee Griggs), a street corner drug dealer, is angling for a promotion from her boss, known as the Manager (Glenn Howerton). Since Indigo is brighter than most of the rest of the Manager’s crew, this seems like a possibility. Then the Manager sends Indigo to collect money from an associate (Paul Scheer) who’s been sampling the product way too much. What follows causes Max to conclude that he must step up, superpowers or no.

Director Adam Egypt Mortimer, who wrote the screenplay from a story he crafted with Lucas Passmore, keeps the ambiguity up for nearly the length of ARCHENEMY, a feat that’s not easy to pull off. His Los Angeles looks suitably grimy for the most part, gleaming in its ritzy sections, and will feel authentic to locals.

Mortimer also has a smart technique for showing us what Max thinks of as his home dimension, showing it (and everyone there) in limited animation. This highlights the possibility that Max is fantasizing about a comic book explanation for personal trauma.

The opening, narrated by Max, shows us his version of what’s happened. In Chromium City, he could fly. He stopped his archenemy Cleo from destroying the place, then punched through molecules to create a vortex to our world, where he’s now stuck. The limited animation switches to live-action as we see Max relating all this in a bar as he’s drinking.

Manganiello plays Max with absolute conviction. Brooks gives Hamster optimistic high spirits. Griggs makes Indigo seem like someone who can survive among the sharks as long as the script lets her. Howerton is lightly comedic and quite scary in about equal measure.

The credibility issues in ARCHENEMY come less from the possibility of other dimensions than the way people behave in this one. We don’t dislike Indigo because of her profession, as she seems to have ethics. However, when a crisis arises, she makes a decision so wrongheaded that it’s hard to believe in her character afterwards.

Likewise, if Max really is a superhero, Hamster is broadcasting the man’s activities and whereabouts to, well, see the film’s title. If Max is simply confused and drunk, then Hamster would seem to be taking advantage of him. ARCHENEMY doesn’t make it clear what Hamster believes on this front, which seems less like Hamster weighing the possibilities, and more like the filmmakers refusing to make a decision.

Finally, ARCHENEMY pulls all of its plot elements together for the climax, but some of these are set up better than others.

ARCHENEMY winds up being uneven, but it preserves its mystery for an admirably long stretch, as well as having some visual pizzazz and a strong sense of place.

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