Dave White
Phantom Review

Dave's Rating:

2.0

A race to the bottom.

The closest most of us will come to being on an actual submarine will involve a trip to Disneyland, so it's up to movies about submarines to act as experience avatars. You want, at the very least, a Das Boot-level of tension, the chance to engage in an underwater battle with an enemy sub while shouting technical jargon at the crew. They'll throw down all those cool analog levers and make the depth-o-meters or whatever they're called spin wildly out of control as you careen dangerously close to sub-killing reefs. In a perfect world you also get to wrestle a giant octopus like Kirk Douglas in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

Unless you're the doomed Soviet naval men aboard this film's submarine, that is. Then you just drown. And nope, that doesn't count as plot-ruin on my part because the movie is based on 1968's mysterious and still classified reality in which a Russian sub went missing, in turn spawning a slew of educated guestimate explanations and conspiracy theories over the years. They went out into the water and they were never seen again, but somewhere in the process we may have all come very close to something akin to nuclear war. Possibly.

Played by a host of cool American character actors like Ed Harris, David Duchovny, Lance Henriksen and William Fichtner, none of whom are affecting Boris Badanov accents and all of whom are doing their best to create something out of not much, Phantom is begging for an opportunity to be the kind of claustrophobia-inducing thriller that doesn't come around often enough. Too bad that chance is squandered by its drama-free script and execution. It's all tight-squeeze spaces, close-ups of stern-faced men and mysterious sidelong glances, Harris suffering from hallucination-inspiring epileptic seizures and Duchovny suffering from puffy contemporary hair. Aside from an old-school gun standoff, there's never even a moment where you think that World War 3 might actually happen, and that's the disaster allegedly hanging in the balance. Instead of fear you wind up giggling over goofy dialogue like "Shoot me now and I'll see you in Hell in about 90 seconds!"

Seriously, where's that giant octopus when you need him?

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