Phantom-attachment0

Phantom

Movie Information

The Story: A Soviet submarine captain nearing the end of his career must stop a group of rogue KGB agents who look to ignite nuclear war. The Lowdown: Professionally made, well-acted and occasionally literate, but also occasionally confusing, silly and pointless.
Score:

Genre: Cold War Submarine Thriller
Director: Todd Robinson (Lonely Hearts)
Starring: Ed Harris, David Duchovny, William Fichtner, Lance Henriksen
Rated: R

Todd Robinson’s Phantom is the definition of middling cinema: a movie that’s watchable and professionally made, with an often literate and an occasionally thoughtful screenplay. But then there’s the other side of Phantom — the one that veers into goofy, mawkish and confusing; the one that lacks any real emotional resonance or dramatic tension. For every step the film takes in the right direction, there’s one where it stumbles — resulting in a movie that’s harmless, yet airless and forgettable.

Phantom is little more than a Cold War submarine thriller, taking the peculiar approach of following a bunch of Soviet sailors with occasionally distracting American accents. According to Robinson, the idea is to humanize these men, making them less Cold War boogeymen and more relatable to the average American. More likely, it was to avoid the inevitable silly Russian accents (even though Lance Henriksen with a Boris Badenov accent would’ve been worth the price of admission alone), but it’s ultimately a lose-lose situation since, either way, you end up with a distraction.

Regardless, we get Ed Harris as Demi, our requisite grizzled sub captain, on one last voyage before retirement — the sole purpose of which is to assist government agent Bruni (David Duchovny) in the testing of a top secret piece of equipment called “The Phantom.” The Phantom has the ability to record and mock the sounds of other seafaring vessels, giving their submarine the ability to confuse enemy ships. Unfortunately for just about everyone, Bruni’s sole plan is to overtake Demi, use The Phantom to attack America with a nuclear warhead and throw the world into World War III.

Demi — who has a guilt-ridden, dishonorable past — must defeat Bruni by both physically and mentally overmatching him. For the most part, the movie is intelligently constructed, though Robinson has an unfortunate habit of leaving plot threads dangling and simply skipping over or rushing through important points in the story. Continuing Phantom’s habit of unevenness, the dialogue is often crisp (it helps that it’s being delivered by a solid — though unspectacular — cast), but occasionally regresses into the realm of corny. Even the climax is wobbly, at first being smartly constructed, but then devolving into a silly final scene that’s unduly weird and laughably sentimental.

But Phantom’s greatest sin is never giving us a reason to be invested. Since we’re all aware that the world was never plummeted into a nuclear holocaust in the ‘60s, there’s a distinct lack of dramatic tension. The real kicker is a lack of emotional resonance in these stock characters — something that’s needed for the film’s big, emotional payoff to work. In all, Phantom is a bit too drab and a bit too much on the wrong side of mediocrity to get interested in. Rated R for violence.

Playing at Carmike 10, Carolina Asheville Cinema 14, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande

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27 thoughts on “Phantom

  1. Ken Hanke

    Having boasted figures that weren’t that far from The Oogieloves, it should come as no shock that this is gone come Friday.

  2. Jeremy Dylan

    Ed Harris is no substitute for Billy Zane, and as much as I like David Duchovny, they really should’ve brought Catherine Zeta-Jones back from the original.

  3. Ken Hanke

    And now the least watched movie of the week has more comments than the others. Granted, none of those comments have anything to do with the movie. Including this one.

  4. Big Al

    I actually wanted to see this one, but just wasn’t in the mood to leave the house on my days off. I liked “K-19: the Widowmaker” and was hoping this would be in the same vein.

    The trailer said it is “based on true events”. Are they referring to the allegation (mostly debunked) made in the book “Red Star Rogue” that dissident officers of the Soviet sub K-219 attempted to launch a nuclear attack on the U.S., which resulted in the sub’s explosion nad sinking in the Pacific, later to be partially recovered by the “Jennifer Project” and the CIA’s ship, the Hughes Glomar Explorer?

  5. Ken Hanke

    I actually wanted to see this one, but just wasn’t in the mood to leave the house on my days off. I liked “K-19: the Widowmaker” and was hoping this would be in the same vein.

    Great snakes! Something actually about the movie! While I was not fond of K-19, I do recall that at least in it the leads did the Boris Badenov schtick, which I appreciated for amusement value.

    I couldn’t possibly address the “based on a true story” thing, but I generally assume that should be followed by, “though by the time we got finished you’d never know it.”

  6. Jeremy Dylan

    I was not fond of K-19

    To quote:

    During the movie’s interminable tag scenes, I was seized by a fit of Rocky Horror and couldn’t help following up the line, “It vas 28 years ago today,” with, “Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play.” Everyone is unrelentingly grim and dour, though Neeson seems especially peevish. Possibly he saw the rushes and noticed that director Kathryn Bigelow kept putting him at the edge of her wide-angle lens, thereby distorting his face so that he tends to resemble Lon Chaney’s backside.

  7. Big Al

    Granted, “K-19″ was not an epic film, but in an age of overused CGI (here we go again, eh?) the producers did go to the trouble of actually refurbishing a surplus soviet submarine of almost exactly the same make as the K-19. This made the film of great value to technophiles like me who can watch the film while reading books like “Red Star Rogue”, Hostile Waters”, “Blind Man’s Bluff”, etc. and get a better feel of the actual events that were taking place underwater in the cold war.

    Much better than watching a nuclear-powered Nimitz-class carrier launching James Doolittle’s raid on Tokyo, or Japanese zeroes bombing guided-missle destroyers in “Pearl Harbor”.

  8. Ken Hanke

    Not fond is a somewhat underplaying it

    It’s not like I called it a moose fellation party, now is it?

  9. Jeremy Dylan

    It’s not like I called it a moose fellation party, now is it?

    More like a deer heavy petting soiree.

  10. Ken Hanke

    Much better than watching a nuclear-powered Nimitz-class carrier launching James Doolittle’s raid on Tokyo, or Japanese zeroes bombing guided-missle destroyers in “Pearl Harbor”.

    Well, Pearl Harbor was a moose fellation party. I’d suspect you of being the re-incarnation of my best friend from childhood (childhood…childhood…childhood) — if I could make the ages (and the political leanings) line up. Ah, how well I remember watching Ice Station Zebra in 1968 and having Bill yell, “Those aren’t MIGs, those are Piper Tri-Pacers!” Actually, he didn’t say Piper Tri-Pacers (obviously), but I couldn’t think of anything else other than Fokker Eindecker. The most memorable thing, though, was that he was yelling this over the sound of the roaring jet engines — which, of course, cut to dead silence half-way through his sentence, alerting the entire theater to the filmmakers’ error.

  11. Ken Hanke

    More like a deer heavy petting soiree.

    True. Kathryn Bigelow hasn’t made it to the Really Big Game yet.

  12. Big Al

    “Ah, how well I remember..Bill yell, “Those aren’t MIGs…”

    They looked like MIG-21s to me (and they were clearly models, not real planes so why would they have substituted?), and even if they weren’t they were close enough in shape and period. But substituting nuclear-age ships for WW2 ships was a travesty. “Pearl Harbor” was one film that would have benefited from CGI.

    Yes, I probably am anal retentive on military production values, but for films like “K-19″, those are often the (only?) saving graces of the film. I felt the last half dragged on too long.

    I was also annoyed to see a Canadian destroyer portraying an American ship. UK Commonwealth vessels look NOTHING like Americans until the last 10 years or so, and there are several nations currently sailing 1960s-era surplus American ships who would have loved to be in this movie. Oh, well…

  13. Ken Hanke

    Bear in mind, Bill was 14 at the time. Who knows what he was spouting off at?

    CGI in Pearl Harbor could have at least been used to replace Cuba Gooding, Jr.

  14. DrSerizawa

    I was also annoyed to see a Canadian destroyer portraying an American ship. UK Commonwealth vessels look NOTHING like Americans until the last 10 years or so, and there are several nations currently sailing 1960s-era surplus American ships who would have loved to be in this movie. Oh, well…

    Rent yourself a copy of Catch-22 and groove to the Spanish AF’s B-25s in the opening scene.

    I chuckled heartily at the modern destroyers in Pearl Harbor as well. But the most annoying thing was the foul-mouthed Alec Baldwin depicting Col. Doolittle, who was noted for never swearing.

  15. DrSerizawa

    Come to think of it if you were to analyze Pearl Harbor for every inaccuracy, the critique would be at least twice as long as the movie.

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