Bad movies exist on a lot of different planes. You have offensive-bad, like last year’s let’s-celebrate-union-busting yarn "Won’t Back Down." There’s incompetently made-bad - like all the found footage horror films that feel as though they must be coming from first-year film school dropouts (cough, "Chernobyl Diaries," cough.) There’s disappointing-bad (most Robert Rodriguez movies). There’s overlong-bad, and not-long-enough bad. But "Phantom," a new military procedural from director Todd Robinson, ends up in a very specific plane of badness. I call it, "what the hell were they thinking?"
Every single decision here seems completely boneheaded and incomprehensible. And that includes the decision to finance this disaster of a movie in the first place. Ed Harris and William Fichtner star as the Soviet captains of a Cold-War era submarine (?!) sent off on their one last mission before retirement (of course.)
Unfortunately, also sent along is KGB agent David Duchovny (?!?!) who wants to use the nukes on board to ’do his country right’ and start World War III (the plan - to use cloaking devices to trick the Americans into thinking the Chinese launched the attack, allowing those two to blow themselves to Kingdom Come while Mother Russia watches on and laughs). Oh, and this is all based on a true story. I couldn’t make this shit up.
So: it’s not a true story, that’s pure bullshit. It’s just speculative fiction (the truth of the matter is that an armed Soviet sub went down - everything else is guesswork.) That’s hiccup number one. Then there are Harris’ and Duchovny’s New York/New Jersey accents - especially hilarious when our lead is talking about how he once visited NYC for a ’single day’ with his Ruskie Ballerina girlfriend. That’s hiccup number two. Then there’s the jargon-heavy, procedural script, which almost never leaves the sub and feels as though it were written for the stage. Hiccup number three. Then there are Harris’ epileptic freak-outs, which occasionally leave the film looking like a bad ripoff of a Kenneth Anger movie. Hiccup number four. And it goes on and on.
Some bad films are bizarre. Some are boring. "Phantom" manages to be both.