Tag Archives: C

PHANTOM

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C

Reports about a Soviet submarine that sank in the Pacific during the Cold War and rumors that one of its ballistic missiles was later recovered on the ocean floor—matters that, we’re told, both Russian and American governments have kept classified—are worked up into a “Bedford Incident”-style would-be nail-biter by writer-director Todd Robinson. Despite the efforts of a game cast, who could easily have managed the Russian accents that for some reason Robinson didn’t ask them to attempt, “Phantom” comes across as somewhat less credible than “The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming.”

Ed Harris stars as Demi, a gruff Soviet sub captain haunted by memories of a tragedy when many of the men under his command perished—something suggested in ham-fisted flashback montages. He’s assigned by old rival Markov (Lance Henrikson) to oversee the last mission of an aging ship about to be decommissioned and sold to China. What he doesn’t know is that one of his passengers, the mysterious Bruni (David Duchovny) is a fanatical KGB agent who intends using a new cloaking device—the eponymous Phantom—to launch a nuclear attack on the American Pacific fleet that will be blamed on the Chinese and initiate a war from which the Soviet Union will, as a neutral, remain relatively unscathed while seeing the US destroyed.

Frankly this scenario seems pretty farfetched, given that the Chinese nuclear arsenal was paltry, compared to that of the US, in the late sixties, when the tale is supposedly set. But for Robinson the doomsday plot, and the nonexistent Phantom device, are but pretexts for a test of wills between Demi, the old-style, by-the-book, ultra-competent though flawed patriot, and Bruni, the steely fanatic who, like General Jack D. Ripper, believes that war is now too important to be left to the politicians. (Surely his speech on this score is intended as a homage to Kubrick’s creation.) Demi and his loyal subordinates—led by his second-in-command Alex (William Fichtner) must resort to all sorts of feints and tricks, as well as direct action—dismantling missiles, sending out a message to other Russian ships, engaging in gun battles—to try to prevent Bruni and his band of henchmen from succeeding in their nefarious plot. In the middle is the irresolute ship’s poliical officer, Pavlov (Jhonathon Schaech, who’s compelled to wear one of the most unflattering moustaches in recent film but, to compensate, is given a self-sacrificing death scene).

The basic arc of the script is clear enough, but frankly some of the episodes seem rather ill-explained, and at one point Robinson has to drop in an absurd twist (a sub crew member is incapacitated by claustrophobia, of all things, forcing a less experienced hand to attempt the missile dismantling). He also tries to cover his tracks by having the characters toss around an incredible amount of technical gobbledegook designed, it appears, simply to drown us in a sea of non-meaning. No amount of verbiage, however, could justify a coda as goofy as the one in “Safe Haven.” Since when have ghosts become the go-to plot mechanism to add a schmaltzy finale to a dour story?

Despite all this, Harris and Fichtner remain fun to watch, even when they’re expending their intensity on such threadbare material. Duchovny is much less interesting, delivering what’s essentially a one-note turn. Nor is the movie helped by a physical production that’s very short in the effects department. The underwater sequences of the sub and the other ships it comes into contact with look exactly like the mediocre model work they are.

“Das Boot” set an extremely high standard for high-tension submarine pictures. By contrast “Phantom” comes across as dramatically waterlogged and, despite the efforts of a strong cast, more than a little silly.

PARKER

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C

The hero of Donald E. Westlake’s series of books, written under the pseudonym of Richard Stark, has appeared on screen before in the person of such very different—if equally volatile—stars as Lee Marvin (“Point Blank”) and Mel Gibson {“Payback”). Now Parker shows up again, but with a British accent, played by stoic, stone-faced Jason Statham, in Taylor Hackford’s take on the character, which boasts a simple, eponymous title. The result is a middling action movie, neither great nor terrible.

“Parker” is a simple revenge tale tricked out with some embellishments to give it a false sense of complexity. The protagonist is a super-competent crook with a personal code of honor that especially requires redressing the balance in the event of a double-cross. He’s convinced by his old partner Hurley (Nick Nolte), who also happens to be the father of his girlfriend Claire (Emma Booth), to join a quartet of hoods—Melander (Michael Chiklis), Carlson (Wendell Pierce), Ross (Clifton Collins, Jr.) and Hardwicke (Micah Hauptman)—in a caper at the Ohio State Fair. After pulling off the heist—though not without a hitch that leaves one fairgoer dead—the others turn on Parker, who doesn’t want to invest his share in another job, and leave him for dead.

If he were, of course, there would be no movie. Parker survives, determined to deal with the men who’d betrayed him. There’s a complication in that Hardwicke’s uncle is a major Chicago crime boss who sends a hit-man after Parker, Hurley and Claire; but our antihero gets the other two to safety and then tracks his quarries to Palm Beach, where he enlists beautiful real estate agent Leslie (Jennifer Lopez), a money-strapped divorcee, to locate them. But when she suspects that he’s really not the Texas millionaire he’s pretending to be, she figures that becoming part of his plan might solve her financial problems. The whole business gets messy, of course, but in the end Parker and Leslie must face off against the dastardly villains after they’ve made their big score.

Westlake/Stark and scripter John J. McLaughlin provide the movie with a succession of action sequences—the fair robbery, the attempted disposal of Parker in a speeding car, a bloody altercation between Parker and the Chicago hit-man in a high-rise hotel suite, a complicated theft at a celebrity auction, and the protracted final showdown in a Florida ranch house—and they’re all staged and choreographed by Hackford adequately, though without any special flair or style that might make them truly memorable. And while the taciturn Statham’s take on the character of Parker isn’t much different from what he’s done on previous occasions, it’s certainly acceptable enough. Altogether, though, that leaves the picture mediocre at the core.

There’s some compensation in Lopez’s sultry saleswoman (at one point she does what amounts to an entirely gratuitous strip-tease) and Nolte’s gruff mentor. But otherwise the pickings are pretty slim. The bad guys are a pretty pallid bunch, with Chiklis doing a standard-issue smoldering turn, and Bobby Cannivale is wasted as a beat cop infatuated with Leslie. By contrast Patti LuPone is shamelessly over-the-top as Leslie’s mother.
Lesser roles tend to be played in similarly broad strokes.

Technically proficient without being at all remarkable visually, “Parker” is what used to be thought of as a standard-issue programmer, efficient but completely unexceptional. The character of Parker might seem ageless, but this take on him won’t last long.