Sunday, March 3, 2013

The last voyage of K-129, a submarine yawn

Ever since Wolfgang Peterson's seminal deep sea World War II masterpiece 'Das Boot,' I've been drawn to movies set in submarines at war.  The claustrophobic confines of a sub is conducive to high tension and suspense, a place where our deepest fears and paranoia are truly made manifest.  The idea of being crushed to death in a tin can miles below the ocean surface can do that to you.
'Phantom' (not to be confused with the 1999 Korean movie 'Phantom: The Submarine') follows the same formula as recent submarine yarns like 'The Hunt for Red October,' 'U-571,' 'K19:Widowmaker' and 'Crimson Tide.'  Loosely based on the true story of the disappearance of the Soviet ballistic missile submarine K-129 in the Pacific in March of 1968, the movie postulates a scenario of what might have caused the submarine's mysterious sinking at the height of the Cold War, drawing from a 'what if?' supposition that would make even the most jaded conspiracy theorists salivate.  Ed Harris and David Duchovny portrayed their roles as boat's captain and KGB officer with aplomb, but their acting skills were never really put to the test.  Harris's self-loathing, over-the-hill captain who drinks and is haunted by the past is somewhat clichéd, and Duchovny seems a bit uncomfortable in the role of a villain. 
The movie is hampered by a tepid pace that drained any suspense it could have had.  Even at 90 minutes, the movie seemed overly long and unsure of itself.  At times during the movie, I got a sense of deja vu because the scenes looked familiar and been-there-done-that.  It seemed like 'Phantom' borrowed scenes from 'Das Boot,' 'The Hunt from Red October,' 'K-19' and 'Crimson Tide,' and just put different characters and nuances in them.  Then again, maybe I've just seen too many submarine movies.

Grade: C+

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