Producers: Daniel Noah, Lisa Whelan, Elijah Wood, Kim Sherman, Adam Egypt Mortimer, Joe Manganiello and Nick Manganiello Director: Adam Egypt Mortimer Screenplay: Adam Egypt Mortimer Cast: Joe Manganiello, Skylan Brooks, Zolee Griggs, Paul Schneer, Glenn Howerton and Amy Seimetz Distributor: RLJE Films
Adam Egypt Mortimer follows up his uneven horror movie “Daniel Isn’t Real” with this contribution to the currently popular genre of superhero deconstructionism. The result is energetic but muddled, and blighted by an overly flashy visual style, which includes periodic bursts of flaming animation.
Joe Manganiello stars as a burly fellow named Max Fist, who wanders about Los Angeles engaged in odd activities like punching brick building walls. He annoys the denizens of bars with scatterbrained stories of being a superhero from the planet Chromium who was ejected from his dimension to earth after battling a villain named Cleo, denuded of his powers.
Max’s wild stories are overheard by a lanky local nicknamed Hamster (Skylan Brooks), who dreams of using them to establish himself as a popular online voice. Hamster is close to his sister Indigo (Zolee Griggs), a small-time drug-dealer who swore to their parents that she’d take care of him. She works for a flamboyant crime kingpin known only as The Manager (Glenn Howerton), who assigns her tasks like collecting a debt from an even more gonzo crook called Tango (Paul Schneer), who turns out to be both murderous and suicidal.
The questions posed by “Archenemy” (written by Mortimer from a story by him and Lucas Passmore)—and answered after a fashion in the last reel—are whether Max is what he claims to be or just a schizophrenic wino, and how far Indigo will go in order to protect her brother. Manganiello cuts a grizzled, unkempt time-bomb of a figure as Max, and though both Howerton and Schneer chew the scenery mercilessly, they at least add some spark to the mix, since both Brooks and Griggs come off as pretty boring. There’s also some flair in the cinematography of Halyna Hutchins and production design by Ariel Vida, who together create a grim portrait of L.A.’s dystopian underbelly.
Until the last act, however, when Amy Seimetz shows up as The Manager’s confederate Cleo Ventrik and Max decides to embrace his supposed destiny, the picture is rather a humdrum affair. Though the frenetic editing by Chris Patterson and Lana Wolverton, along with a bombastic score by Umberto (aka Matt Hill), tries to give the movie a sense of urgency, whenever the narrative moves into action mode Mortimer’s modest budget forces him to depend on vividly-colored but stiffly-drawn animated sequences (credited to Kevin Finnegan, Danny Perez and Sunando C) that accentuate the picture’s graphic-novel sensibility. (The tone is set from the very beginning, when Max’s recounting of his exploits on Chromium takes that form.) And when, at the close, the final confrontation in The Manager’s high-rise lair eschews cartoon visuals and opts for live-action, the result is so small-scaled as to be almost risible.
Like Mortimer’s previous movie, “Archenemy” is ambitious, but it’s another case of a filmmaker’s reach exceeding his grasp. The Hollywood superhero genre deserves to be exploded, but it will take more than a mini-bomb like this to do the trick.