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Like, ten, maybe fifteen leagues under the sea: “Phantom”

March 5, 2013

posterI have a sweet spot for submarine movies. I don’t know why—ordinarily I try to avoid confined spaces filled with sexually-frustrated men (advice from my high school guidance counselor that comes in handy more often than you’d think). But, man, I just enjoy the hell out of submarine movies. Maybe because, unlike those sailors, I can actually get up and walk around and get laid during my day. Whatever. Anyway, once I saw a poster for a submarine movie that starred Ed Harris, David Duchovny, William Fichtner, and Lance Henriksen all I could think to say was, “Holy F&#$, yes!”

So, Phantom is not about a haunted submarine (check out David Twohy’s Below if you want that), but instead refers to a piece of top-secret hardware installed on an aged Soviet missile sub that serves as…uh…not terribly important to the rest of the story. I mean, it’s important to some of the plot points, but kind of the way James Bond’s exploding pen is important—yeah, it makes a scene work, but there was probably a way around it.

But let me start at the beginning: Phantom stars Ed Harris as a Russian sub captain put in charge of an outdated diesel missile-submarine—the real-life sub K-129—for her final mission before she’s sold to the Chinese navy. The mission is mysterious, and there are bad omens aplenty: Harris and his command staff are recalled from leave for this ride; most of the crewmen are new sailors no one knows; and the sub is one that Harris has a bad history with. But most ominous are the KGB agents, led by David Duchovny, who are calling the shots on this mission.

The Russian Navy: Sure, our subs routinely sink, but our hats are awesome.

The Russian Navy: Sure, our subs routinely sink, but our hats are awesome.

Duchovny is pretty mellow at first, all “Hey, I’m a David Duchovny-like KGB agent, but I’m still cool. Wanna throw the football around?” But when it comes to testing the sooper-secret whatchamadoohickey installed on the ship, he goes all Quint on their asses—perfectly willing to risk the sub to test the new technology.

When the whatchamadoohicky operates perfectly (it’s not that cool—not like any Philadelphia Experiment-level stuff), it becomes clear to Harris that this mission will have a horrifying outcome. Soon, he becomes embroiled in a struggle between the Kremlin and a radical sect of the KGB with nothing less than the fate of world at stake.

But hey, if the world is going to be at stake there are worse people than Ed Harris and William Fichtner (who plays his trusty Executive Officer) to be handling it, right? I mean, that’s a lot of testosterone in a little steel tube (hm…that came out wrong).

His "I-punched-James-Cameron" face.

His “I-punched-James-Cameron” face.

Phantom is kind of a B-movie that aspires to be no more than a B-movie. The loss of the K-129 is a historical fact, and this movie posits one theory as to what happened to it. Granted, this theory has been fairly thoroughly debunked, but writer/director Todd Robinson uses this theory as a jumping-off point for a fairly engaging thriller, which, under ordinary circumstances, would have gone direct to DVD.

But Robinson somehow netted a fine cast, so this underwhelming thriller has some extra pizazz. I mean, I could watch Harris, Duchovny, Fitchner, and Henriksen act in anything. Hell, I’d even watch them play X-Box all day, if not for the fear that Harris would start shouting at the TV when he lost, and Henricksen would probably hit me for some reason, and Duchovny would probably have a fivesome with some random chicks he met at a Chilis, and Fitchner would…well, whatever he’d do, it would be pretty crazy. And awesome.

Soviet ballistic-missile sub. Possibly actual size.

Soviet ballistic-missile sub. Possibly actual size.

So, what else is there:

* Unlike K-19: The Widowmaker, this movie doesn’t have the actors speaking in bad Russian accents. It’s refreshing. I suspect rehearsals went like this: ROBINSON: Ok, so you guys can do Russian accents, right? HENRIKSEN: Fuck that. HARRIS: I will stomp your ass into the pavement if you try and make me do that. FICHTNER: How about I just talk with a weird cadence? DUCHOVNY: Anyone wanna see a picture of my junk? I’ve got like 500 of them on my phone.

* Harris, good as he is, is somewhat miscast for his character’s age, who, given his history, is at least twenty years younger than Harris.

* The CGI is…well…it’s not great. It’s not the-end-of-The-Hunt-for-Red-October bad, but Good Lord, it’s not good.

* Every time a KGB guy so much as picks up a gun, he feels the need to cock it for effect. If you drink every time this happens you will be borderline comatose by the end of the movie.

* I kept hoping that at some point Fichtner would break out the black suit and reveal himself to be The Accountant from Drive Angry. The movie works without it, but still…I just really like that character.

* Johnathan Schaech is in this. Remember him? Yeah, no one else does, either.

* Is there anywhere you’d want to be less than stuck in a submarine with David Duchovny? I mean, it’s only a matter of time before that sex-addiction kicks in…

Uh-oh. It's his "come hither" look.

Uh-oh. It’s his “come hither” look.

So, that’s Phantom. It’s worth a rent…

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