I will always give points for weird, but there’s a fine line between weird and aimless. I’ll fully admit to being a certain level of captivated by writer/director Adam Egypt Mortimer’s (Daniel Isn’t Real, Some Kind of Hate) Archenemy, about a man named Max Fist (Joe Manganiello, Magic Mike), who claims to be from a different dimension’s version of Earth where he is a globally known superhero (that version of the world is cleverly visualized with comic book-like animation). But somehow, Max was hurled through time and space, landing on our earth, powerless with no way back. He blames this conundrum on his archenemy, the villainess Cleo (Amy Seimetz), but it isn’t until he is discovered by a teenage video journalist hungry for clicks named Hamster (Skylan Brooks) that the possibility of regaining his powers and defeating Cleo seems possible.
Archenemy is a film loaded with “colorful characters,” which is both a good and bad thing. Inevitably, it means that everyone in the movie is performing at 11, but the ones who aren’t might actually be doing something interesting by dialing it back a few (hundred) notches. Good example: Glenn Howerton plays Cleo’s primary agent on Earth, known only as “The Manager,” and while he frequently dresses ridiculously, it’s actually a fun performance that shifts from funny to terrifying with only a little warning. The same can’t be said for Paul Scheer’s extended cameo as whacked-out drug dealer Tango, who is supposed to give newbie drug dealer Indigo (Zolee Griggs) money to give The Manager, but things go horribly wrong. It just so happens that Indigo is Hamster’s sister, so their two worlds eventually collide, bringing Max and Cleo face to face once again.
Normally, I don’t talk much about production companies or studios who put films out because often that has nothing to do with the quality of the final product. But in the case of Archenemy, the production company is SpectreVision, a 10-year-old house co-founded by actor Elijah Wood that seems to specialize in weirdness (take a look at cult hits Mandy or Color Out of Space for recent examples). Like other SpectreVision titles, this one feels like it’s done on the cheap, but rather than try to pass itself off as something with a bigger budget, filmmaker Mortimer leans into its deep-discount production and lets its comic book aesthetics and actors do the heavy lifting of making the movie entertaining, which they do for the most part.
Manganiello is literally built for this kind of role—oversized, rough around the edges but capable of embracing his character’s near-manic persona (he’s living the life of a homeless person when we meet him). And it’s a pleasant surprise to see Seimetz embrace a true villain role. She’s a tremendous actor that typically works in a more serious arena, so to see her chew even a tiny bit of scenery is a treat. And when we find out more about the history Max and Cleo share, she’s also called upon to become a bit of a seductress as well, all of which she handles beautifully.
I’m not trying to sell Archenemy as something more than the B-picture that it is. Its messages about what’s hip and viral seem a little misguided, and as a result the brother-and-sister storyline with Hamster and Indigo falls a bit flat because little about it feels genuine. There’s nothing wrong with the performances, but the writing simply doesn’t hit the same highs that the superhero storyline does. That being said, there’s just enough that works in Archenemy to recommend it to those of you who maybe feel you need a small jolt to the system.
The film will be available Friday in theaters that are open and via VOD.
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