Phantom Dir. Todd Robinson

[RCR Media Group; 2013]

Styles: submarine thriller
Others: Das Boot, The Hunt for Red October, K-19: The Widowmaker, U-571

I might appreciate submarine movies less if there were more of them, but maybe then there would be more good ones. Phantom is a decidedly below-average specimen of the subgenre: with the majority of its running time spent underwater and a respectable sonar ping quotient, it has superficial appeal, but fails to get beneath the surface of its story and characters.

Inspired by the 1968 disappearance of the Soviet sub K-129 in the Pacific, the film imagines a scenario in which World War III was narrowly averted. Captain Demi (Ed Harris) accepts a thankless mission on a decrepit sub for no other reason than to get back out at sea where he belongs. A KGB detachment led by Bruni (David Duchovny) accompanies him and his crew, with its own mission (initially kept under wraps): to test the cloaking device that gives the film its title, which can mimic the sound of any other ship in the world and thus mask the sub’s identity to other vessels. Once the device has proved successful, Harris fathoms that Duchovny plans to use it immediately to launch a nuclear strike on the United States.

Despite the claustrophobic setting and apocalyptically high stakes, Phantom never swells to dramatic heights and doesn’t even provide an immersive experience. Writer-director Todd Robinson’s eye is better than his ear: he makes good use of the submarine set and Harris’s weathered face, but he hasn’t come up with a single interesting line of dialogue. The only relief from this sodden affair is the unintentional comedy of its jarring, climactic plunge into bathetic fantasy. Too subdued for action fans and too hackneyed for moviegoers in search of greater depth, Phantom is certain to sink without a trace, but here’s hoping it won’t deter some enterprising filmmaker from floating a fresh take on the submarine thriller.

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