Phantom

The opening credits helpfully inform us that the movie is inspired by true events. This means about what it usually means in a Hollywood movie, which is to say that they took five or six basic facts, shook them around a little, and put them into a general outline that probably actually does have a little something to do with the actual circumstances. What really happened is that a Soviet submarine on maneuvers in the Pacific sank under doubtful circumstances in 1968. There's still plenty of doubt about what really happened, though I think it's safe to say that the explanation offered here is so close to completely wrong as to make no difference.

In a way, it's almost an ill-conceived reboot of U-571, which is worth watching if you haven't seen it. That's a WWII movie, but a lot of the basics are the same. The mission is dangerous and mysterious, the first officer is hoping for a command of his own soon, and the crew ends up on a boat that's unfamiliar, struggling to survive against the odds. In a desperate gamble, each captain takes the sub down past the 'crush point', when pressure should theoretically rupture the hull. One crewman has even just gotten married in both films. It works in U-571 but not here, which is a shame.

Ed Harris of Man on a Ledge is Demi, the captain in question here, with William Fichtner as his loyal first officer. He was in Drive Angry, poor guy, and this is at least a considerable step up from that. Anyway, an old sub he used to command is going on her last run, and his boss, Markov (played by Lance Henriksen from the Alien franchise, thinks it would be nice if Demi was her captain again. Seeing it written out keep making me think of Demi Moore, though when I was only hearing it I kept thinking it seemed like a nickname for Dimitri.

Also on board are two technicians with a top-secret super-gadget to test. There might have been three techs, I'm not sure. The gadget is the Phantom of the title, though, I know that much. The two techs I remember are Bruni and Tyrtov, played by David Duchovny of X-Files fame and Sean Patrick Flanery (Saw 3-D), respectively. This gadget is for the glory of Mother Russia, and they remind everyone of that fact whenever anyone doesn't leap to obey their commands, which are sometimes bizarre and often suicidal. For instance, they order the sub to surface when there's an American ship right there, just waiting to pounce.

The gadget is really only an excuse, though, because Bruni and Tyrtov are KGB hardliners. That means they're the guys who even most of the KGB thinks are a little whacked, because they're that far out there. They think it's high time for another war, especially since they have a plan to make sure Russia wins -- by not playing, as in WarGames.

The acting is generally pretty good. Aside from the leads, Johnathon Schaech of Takers, for instance, does a good job as the sub's political officer, despite having to wear the biggest mustache since Stalin decided to get into the facial-hair business. Jason Gray-Stanford, Lt. Disher from Monk, might be a good actor, but I'm too used to thinking of him as Lt. Disher. It was hard taking him seriously when he was trying to sabotage a nuclear missile, though not nearly so hard as struggling to believe Denise Richards as a nuclear physicist in Goldeneye.

I've seen some complaints around. One guy was complaining about the "mystical ending", but I think he got that wrong, as there was a perfectly scientific explanation previously offered. Others say that it was terrible not having any Russian spoken or hearing any Russian accents. I was grateful for that; I have a good ear for accents and I hate hearing people struggle (and sometimes fail) to sound "right" when they should just be acting. Besides, Russians don't think of themselves as having Russian accents any more than I think of myself as having an upper-midwestern-United States accent.

Still others have complained about how it "looked low-budget". That may be so, but since they really only needed one set, that of an old, dingy, about-to-be-retired sub, it's also not a surprise. However, they should have spent more money on better editing. Either that or someone important ordered the hapless editor to get the movie in under two hours or else, because things were chopped out that should not have been chopped out. Basically all the tension was removed.

So if someone adds the tension back in for the director's cut, this might become a pretty good movie. As it is, though, I can't give it more than two and a half out of five. At least the tagline was appropriate. "You'll Never See it Coming" works perfectly on several levels, since there was also no advertising for this film.

Image: 
Demi and Pavlov. No, Pavlov's mustache is not the super-gadget.

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