The Phantom (2009) – Directed by Paolo Barzman – Starring Ryan Carnes, Cameron Goodman, Jean Marchand, Sandrine Holt, Cas Anvar, Ron Lea, and Isabella Rossellini.
I was prepared to hate the SyFy/Movie Network THE PHANTOM miniseries, but it’s actually a passable way to spend a few hours.
To be clear, this miniseries isn’t nearly as good as the Simon Wincer PHANTOM movie with Billy Zane, and it does verge dangerously close to being an angst-ridden piece of pretend-cool idiocy, at times, but the miniseries kept surprising me – every time I thought it was veering far enough off course that I was soon to hit the fast forward button, the story brought me back.
After the miniseries opens with a mom and her young kid being car chased through a city, the production enters full-flight, “let’s be hip” mode. Chris Moore (Ryan Carnes) is doing a parkour run through the city as people in a restaurant watch him on their laptop. It’s the kind of scene that makes me think of old people who are desperately trying to be hip to what the kids are doing but getting it very, very wrong. Chris’ friend, who follows along to videotape the proceedings, takes a bad fall and the EMTs arrive in the form of Renny Davidson (Cameron Goodman). Since Renny is young and beautiful and a redhead, you know she’s going to be the romantic interest.
There’s a whole trope of stunted adulthood here, as Chris and Renny look like teenagers but are actually young professionals (she’s an EMT and he’s in his final year of law school), but yet still live at home with their parents. It creates this weird, conflicted vibe in the program as we’re supposed to believe that Chris does parkour, is in the final year of law school, yet still has to call home to check in or his parents freak out like he’s a sixteen year old girl out for a night with a dude who drives a Firebird.
Yeah, you know what I mean.
An aside – Women should never date guys who drive Firebirds, post-1970 Mustangs, or Jeeps. Guys who drive Firebirds are in love with themselves, guys who drive Mustangs are in love with their cars, and guys who drive Jeeps are assholes.
This is a gross over-generalization.
This is true 99% of the time.
I really don’t know what the filmmakers were thinking with this conception of Chris because when a dude who’s about to graduate from law school is grounded by his parents … what the hell are we supposed to think of him? At least Renny’s relationship with her dad feels more adult-like, though I’m not sure why an EMT would feel the need to live at home with her detective father, and the film never bothers to explain it. At least we know Chris’ parents have put themselves into a precarious financial situation to fuel his legal training.
The narrative doesn’t spend any time worrying about this because after Chris and Renny have that typical first date where she makes him dinner and they never eat it because they’re too busy making out (I know I’ve had this first date countless times), he walks her home, and assassins sent by the Singh Brotherhood kill Chris’ parents. He finds them in the upstairs bathtub.
We’re a half hour into the miniseries at this point and I have no idea what the producers were thinking. It’s a mess where everything happens simply because the movie is trying to fast-track us through the set-up.
The good news is that once we get past this point and Chris realizes he’s really Kit Walker, and he’s ushered off to the Bpaa Thap team located on Bengalla Island, the narrative quickly improves. There’s way too much time spent getting everything in place – we have to sit through Kit learning about the history of the Phantom, his training exercises, the tension between the old way of doing things and the new high-tech means – but things aren’t horrible. THE PHANTOM is incredibly well-paced for storytelling of this kind and it’s always sending us forward at a quick pace, so even though we have to sit through predictable sequences, the program doesn’t dwell on them.
As Chris Moore, Ryan Carnes isn’t very good. He struggles with the personal relationship aspect of his character (you know, anything that involves actual emotions), but when he gets to Bengalla and he can just concentrate on being a TV action star, he’s not bad.
The Phantom’s costume is pretty darn ugly. THE PHANTOM is an attempt to modernize Lee Falk’s Phantom, and most of it works well enough, but this costume is doesn’t really work for me. It’s the mask that ruins it, really, but the rest of the costume is just sort of indistinct. It’s a good color combination with the purple and black, though. I wish Hawkeye’s Avengers costume had this kind of color interplay.
After all the training stuff is mostly done, Kit decides he’s got to get back home to stop the Singh Brotherhood from taking over the world through the hypnotic power of TV cable boxes. Yeah. Isabella Rossellini is the mad scientist and I don’t know why she’s here. You have to figure that Rossellini got paid more than scale, so why are the producers paying her for an average role instead of using that money for more effects? I don’t know.
Anyways, the Singh want her to use the cable box to hypnotize people so they can kill someone who has a plan to bring peace to the Middle East. Apparently, this is the one plan in eighty-five billion plans that will actually work because the Singh’s want this guy dead so they can make money.
Look, none of this is all that great, but I am surprised that this mini-series didn’t lead to a new ongoing show, because what’s here would work perfectly fine as a weekly show. You can see the formula at work here and there’s no reason to think it couldn’t have found a home on SyFy for a few seasons. While the whole production does come across as a bit amateurish, it’s heart is in the right place: there’s good action, fiendish villains, a beautiful, capable love interest, and as long as Carnes isn’t asked to carry too much of an emotional load, he’s effective enough.
I don’t know if I’ll ever watch this miniseries, again. When I’m jonesing for a Phantom fix, I’ll watch Wincer’s film 100 times out of a 100, but if you’re interested in seeing a decent modernization, you could do worse than spend a few hours with THE PHANTOM miniseries.