By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — “Inspired by actual events” it may be, but inspired it is not.
Phantom is a leaky submarine thriller, and it reminds us of just how claustrophobic and suspenseful movies in that underwater subgenre can be: recall The Hunt for Red October; Run Silent, Run Deep; The Enemy Below; Crimson Tide; and Das Boot.
But Phantom, which falls far short of those gems, doesn’t generate anywhere near the amount of dramatic tension it aspires to create.
It’s about a Russian sub that mysteriously sank in 1968 and was recovered years later on the ocean floor.
It stars Ed Harris as Demi, the troubled captain of a Soviet missile submarine in the 1960s, haunted by his past and suffering from epileptic seizures that cloud his perceptions and terrifying nightmares that burglarize his sleep.
Forced to leave his wife and daughter behind, he is chosen to lead a classified covert mission, ostensibly his last before retirement, at the height of the Cold War, in an ill-equipped, war-weary ship -– the first he ever commanded — with a motley crew.
David Duchovny is Bruni, the leader of a rogue KGB group –- “technicians” who have installed a top-secret, high-tech device on the ancient sub -– who seem intent on seizing control of the ship and its nuclear missile.
Demi is trying to prevent a war, which Bruni seems to want to instigate with a new cloaking device that might allow them to pit the Chinese against the Americans, thus bringing the world to the brink of nuclear war.
Writer-director Todd Robinson (Lonely Hearts), a screenwriter and documentarian, allows the cast of his conjectural narrative to use their regular American accents -– an odd choice that undercuts the film’s verisimilitude from the get-go -– and focuses not on action or special effects or technical razzle-dazzle but on character and theme and performance.
Unfortunately, none of those three elements do much to clear up the murkiness of the plot.
This means that the impact of the film rests squarely on the work of the ensemble cast, which includes William Fichtner, Lance Henriksen, Johnathon Schaech, Jason Beghe, Sean Patrick Flanery, Julian Adams, and Kip Pardue. And Robinson gets contributions from his crew of character actors who are serviceable but far from commanding.
Harris is characteristically fine, as is William Fichtner as his second-in-command, but miscast Duchovny seems disinterested in the proceedings and seems to have left his acting mojo on shore.
And the generic shoot-em-up climax is a decidedly uninteresting way to resolve this poorly constructed drama, one with a resolution that’s meant to be moving but that registers as an oddly indifferent letdown.
So we’ll submerge 2 stars out of 4 for this sub par submarine thriller. Even with the start of war on the line, Phantom could use more menace.