Sunday, February 12, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—The Phantom (1996) *

PG, 100 min.
Director: Steve Wincer
Writers: Jeffrey Boam, Lee Falk (characters)
Starring: Billy Zane, Kristy Swanson, Treat Williams, Catherine Zeta Jones, James Remar, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Bill Smitrovich

“The Phantom” gained a surprising amount of good reviews upon its theatrical release in 1996. That’s not to say it garnered mostly positive reviews. It’s critical reception was mediocre at best, but it’s those positive reviews that really boggle my mind. I can see not ‘hating’ this movie, although I did hate it. But, the admiration that came from some of the country’s greatest critics at the time is inexplicable.

Roger Ebert said that this was “one of the best-looking movies of any genre” he had ever seen. Huh?! Along with just about everything else, “The Phantom” steals its production design and overall look from Spielberg’s and Lucas’s “Indiana Jones” series. The production certainly doesn’t improve upon it either.

Of course, the real weakness of the film lies in its flat characters and comic strip dialogue that appears to have been peeled off the newspaper print that originally borne The Phantom, with no effort by the filmmakers to flesh them out into realistic depictions. Certainly a degree of stylized reality is necessary to pull off a comic strip character on film; but there’s little interchangeability between any of the characters here, be them hero or villain, male or female, taxi cab driver or millionaire.

Billy Zane tries desperately to bring some levity to his ridiculous superhero, but to no avail. There’s just nothing to support him in his efforts. It’s as if the filmmakers believed that this character and storyline is “Indiana Jones” and not a pale shadow. 

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