Throughout history, there have been lots of submarine movies. This is another one. See how much effort I put into that sentence? That’s about as much effort as was apparently put into this movie.
Phantom follows a weathered Soviet naval captain named Demi (Ed Harris) given “one last mission” on an ancient submarine before it gets sold to the Chinese. None of the details of the mission are given to him, but Demi is suspicious at the last-minute appearance of Bruni (David Duchovny), a KGB agent with shady ulterior motives. After Demi starts to resist Bruni’s strange, dangerous instructions, Bruni leads the crew on a mutiny so that he and his men can carry on with their plan: starting World War III. Sounds pretty awesome, right? Well, it’s not.
When I first saw the trailer, my thought was that this would be an extremely poorly-filmed, monstrously unwatchable movie. It wasn’t quite all that bad, honestly. It looked like an actual movie (not a made-for-TV special), and there were a couple of interesting moments of actual tension.
It could have been this. Am I disappointed? A little.
That’s not to say that the filming is great; there are still some rough areas, and there are bits in which the crew couldn’t think of a convenient/clever place to station the camera. This leads to some very oddly-framed shots and camera angles that don’t quite work. I mean, it’s not as bad as the porn where they only focus on the dude’s face or that one home video where Grandma Florence kept making the camera look at your boyfriend’s ass during her grandson’s home birth, but it’s not good. The lackluster camerawork destroys the sense of claustrophobia in the sub, an effect made worse by the lack of coherence in the set—many rooms and hallways are seen only once, making the sub appear significantly larger than it probably is, and ruining any feeling of being trapped in a confined space. None of this is as bad as a horribly incoherent climactic battle inside the sub towards the end of the movie.
Could have been worse.
Apart from Ed Harris, the performances from most of the cast are poor. The line readings are dry and the actual “acting” boils down to, literally, blank stares. There are so many wordless glances and reaction shots, they probably end up comprising at least half of the movie. Bizarrely, these are all Russian characters, and they all have impeccable English. It doesn’t help that “The Americans” are mentioned multiple times, because they’re supposed to be the bad guys.
And no, you can’t use that bullshit excuse that “they don’t have Russian accents because they’re human beings and stress can be universal and not just confined to one accent.” American is an accent, and trying to say that the American actors don’t have accents and are the best cases for “regular human beings” is extremely stupid.
The script is terrible. I understand that not everyone is Aaron Sorkin or Quentin Tarantino, but sometimes it pays to stop and think before writing something you’re going to regret. Lines such as “My dreams beckon like Ahab,” or overused nautical lingo such as “release the countermeasures” are cause for a raised eyebrow. The script as a whole is clunky, and concepts about both characters and plot points are not well conveyed. Character development is practically nonexistent, and the crew members establish archetypes such as “the claustrophobic one,” “the one that just got married,” and “the rookie.”
What an awful, absolutely horseshit ending. In a nutshell, here’s what happens: the nuclear missile is launched, and a fight breaks out in the sub. Shots are fired and punches are exchanged, and Demi and Bruni pass out. When they come to, they realize that the sub is at the bottom of the ocean, the air is toxic, and the pressure will slowly crush them. Demi sends his first mate out to get to the surface and tell the world that the Russians were not responsible for starting WWIII. Demi suddenly comes to, having dreamt the part about sending his first mate away. The crew starts to hear noises outside the sub, and realizes that they have been found, and the sub is being raised. Here’s what happened: The crew is dead and are now ghosts, but their sub was found because the first mate, who apparently actually did swim to the surface, helped the Russian navy recover the sub. Demi’s family tearfully says good-bye to the Ghost Demi, and Ghost Demi salutes his ghost crew before gazing off into the sunrise. It’s so stupid. It doesn’t even make sense in the context of what we’re shown, and it all happens so abruptly it’s actually annoying.
Phantom is a tragic case of a marginally bad film made terrible by an insurmountable heap of problems that just won’t stop piling up. Worse, it rarely treads into “laughably bad” and never becomes “so bad it’s good.” That’s actually the worst type of movie; instead of being something I can laugh at, it slowly turned into something I was actively hating by the end of it. The only way this movie will win any awards is if there’s an award called “Best Ed Harris submarine movie, and one of these HAS to win it” award.
Oh, I mentioned the “worst line of dialogue of the year” as I was live Tweeting the movie. Here it is:
“There’s an old proverb that says, ‘Share a tent with a prostitute and wake up in a field of shit.’ So I hope you can understand what I mean when I say go fuck yourself.”
Take a Drink: every time you’re reminded that these characters are supposed to be Russian.
Do a Shot: for every fake-looking mustache.
Take a Drink: whenever someone pulls a gun on another character.
Take a Drink: for every shot that is nothing more than David Duchovny staring at someone.
Take a Drink: whenever you can’t figure out which of the characters are supposed to be good/evil.