Submarine movies are made out of claustrophobia, silent crewmen listening for enemy pings, and usually a bad guy whose personality is way too big for the boat. The conventions are so fixed that you’d expect Variety‘s clubby slanguage glossary to provide an obnoxious term for the genre. Ping opera? Sonario? To put it in that rag’s clipped, annoying parlance, Todd Robinson helms sub melodrama Phantom, toplined by Ed Harris as Soviet navy captain Demi (sorry). Demi is abruptly transferred from his nuclear sub to command a classified mission aboard an aging diesel vessel. The film nixes Russian accents in favor of aud rapport (dude, sorry), and Robinson’s screenplay (“inspired” by “actual” “events”) is informed by Cold War conspiracy theories. Rogue KGB agent Bruni (David Duchovny) has forged orders to test a top-secret device called Phantom that disguises the submarine’s sonar signature as that of any other kind of ship. He intends to seize the sub’s nuclear missile and fire it at Midway while impersonating a Chinese sub, provoking a war that would eliminate Russia’s largest rivals. “The only nuclear war we can win—one we don’t fight,” Demi observes. Locked in the sub’s nose, Demi plots with loyal crewmen to sabotage the nuke and retake control. Dicks nix clique’s trick (sorry, sorry, sorry), brutally killing several crewmen, and the ensuing suspense story is a pastiche of familiar tropes—effectively paced, but without originality. And what is up with combinations of Ed Harris, water, and unbelievably hokey endings? Phantom easily out-bromides The Abyss with its eye-rolling final two minutes.
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