Phantom – 2013

Writer and Director Todd Robinson
Starring Ed Harris, David Duchovny, William Fichtner, Lance Henriksen, Johnathon Schaech, Julian Adams, Jason Beghe

There is a point at the beginning of Phantom where the boat crew is prepping K-129 for its last mission.  As we get exposition from many of the principal cast members, we see nameless crewmen pulling endless amounts of rope along the edges and the top of the submarine.  For several minutes and from several angles we see endless amounts of pulling.  Where are they pulling the rope from?  Where is the rope headed to?  It does not really matter.  This is what the Hollywood types call “having the extras look busy on a budget when the camera is rolling.”  The film is filled with such moments, each more agonizing than the last.

A low-budget thriller “inspired” by true events, Phantom has more clichés than a political convention:

  • Can’t get all of your crew back for the mission?  I wonder if the new guys are going to be loyal at a crucial time.
  • Have a crew mate who just got married?  I wonder if he is going to survive.
  • Have a hard time keeping that ring on?  I wonder if it might fall off in a crucial moment.
  • Have two last-minute “passengers” who need to bolt something on your ship?  I wonder if those guys are going to be secretive about that large chunk of metal and somehow avoid telling the captain what it is until he’s done a bunch of crazy crap for them without written orders.
  • Got a noble captain with a past?  I wonder if he’s going to have that past used against him.
  • Got a noble 2nd in command who is loyal to a fault?  I wonder if he’s got a bright future ahead beyond his captain’s shadow.
  • How about an officer who is steeped into politics?  I bet he might have something bad happen to him after selling out the good guys.  He may even get a shot at redemption before biting the bullet.

It’s not like Phantom is a total loss.  The acting is way better than this film deserves.  Fichtner, Harris and Duchovny all do a good job with the material.  If you like those three, then it’s worth a rental.  Especially if it’s a free one.  It’s not their fault that Robinson took the inspiration from the mystery of the lost Russian ship and just joined the scripts of Harris’ own The Abyss and The Hunt For Red October and created a mish mash unworthy of either of those films.  In what may be the sole good decision by the filmmakers is that they absolutely ignore the Russian language and speak English all the way through.

The essence of the story is interesting, but it so poorly draws from other material that one can’t help but wonder if the script was written while watching other submarine scripts.  Here’s an important safety tip.  Next time, finish the movie, then write when there is nothing on-screen to distract you.

(** out of *****)

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