Phantoms (1998)

Phantoms Like A Mother Fucker

For the longest time, the only knowledge I had about today’s movie was that Ben Affleck was the bomb in it. That information came to me from Kevin Smith in his movie Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. I saw the movie was available in Netflix streaming and found out that I had given this movie 5 out of 5 stars, but I didn’t even remember watching it. I decided I needed to make it today’s review because I needed to see if I actually loved this movie (and somehow forgot about it completely), or if I had given it 5 stars because it amused me to do so based on Jay’s reaction to it. We’ll both find out today in my review of Phantoms, written by Dean Koontz, directed by Joe Chappelle, and starring Joanna Going, Rose McGowan, Ben Affleck, Peter O’Toole, Liev Schreiber, Nicky Katt, and Clifton Powell.

Two sisters, Dr. Jenny (Joanna Going) and Lisa (Rose McGowan), go back to their hometown on vacation. The town looks completely empty as they pass through on their way to their house. In the house, they find their cleaning lady dead under mysterious circumstances. They try to call the police, but the phones won’t work. They then try to hop in their car, but that also won’t work. Mondays, am I right? They hoof it down to the police station, but the cops are dead too. They take a shotgun (and give it to the girl that doesn’t know how to load it) and head to a restaurant. More dead folk. But then some cops – Sheriff Bryce Hammond (Ben Affleck), Deputy Stu Wargle (Liev Schreiber), and Deputy Steve Shanning (Nicky Katt) – enter, having been on the phone with one of the dead cops when they became dead and deciding to investigate. While investigating, they find evidence of strange happenings and a message on a mirror mentioning a Timothy Flyte and an Ancient Enemy, written in blood … red lipstick. Hammond contacts the FBI, who then find Dr. Timothy Flyte (Peter O’Toole), who tells them about an Ancient Enemy that has apparently wiped out entire civilizations, leaving very little evidence. They get him down to the town and shit goes down.

I have decided that I gave this movie 5 out of 5 strictly for comedy’s sake. It’s not a great movie, but it is a pretty fun movie in parts. In fact, the first half of the movie is pretty fun times, but the pace slows down to a crawl once they get into the mobile laboratory and start planning their attack. It never really picks up from here either. Even the climax of the movie isn’t really climactic, and it was kind of confusing. I remember them saying they only had one vial of this thing that could kill the enemy, but they suddenly had like 20 when they were each off on their own. I probably could’ve been paying better attention though. Also, the big surprise punch at the very end of the movie is entirely predictable. ::SPOILER IF YOU’RE DUMB:: When Peter O’Toole says “This will kill this thing, unless there’s a nucleus away from the main mass of it” or something like that, you should INSTANTLY think to yourself “DUH! That’s exactly what’s going to happen.” Problematically, how DOES Liev Scheiber show up at the end? They shot him with those vial things just like they did every other part of the big black blob, but he survived somehow? ::END SPOILER:: There are a few other things that don’t add up to me, most notably the fact that they have a machine that they put a piece of the big bad thing in to analyze, then a “vocal mode” turns on and it starts talking to them. Why would such a computer have a “vocal mode”? Chit chat with many amoeba? But, in this movie’s defense, the first half of the movie IS a good deal of fun. It’s fast-paced, they go for some easy startle/scares, but it’s pretty entertaining.

The performances were pretty okay in this movie. I don’t know if I’m willing to go so far as to say that Ben Affleck was “the bomb” in this movie, but he was pretty good. I think I would only refer to someone’s performance in a movie as “the bomb” if he was totally badass (think Val Kilmer in Tombstone or Jeff Bridges in True Grit) or if it was extremely well acted (Liam Neeson in Schindler’s List is my easy answer for this). Affleck was neither in this movie, but he was pretty cool and fairly charming. Joanna Going made no impression on me whatsoever, which is strange since she’s the de facto lead of the movie. She didn’t seem to do much of anything but give medical advice. Rose McGowan did even less. It may be fairly masochistic of this movie that, though the female characters are the first you see, they make little to no impact. Once Affleck shows up, it’s his movie. Then once Peter O’Toole shows up, it’s his movie, though this movie may be one of O’Toole’s weakest performances that I’ve seen. Liev Schreiber was super annoying to me. He was kind of inexplicably creepy BEFORE he was a minion of black goo, and afterwards he was just really hammy. Why would this black mess be all sinister and badass until it jumps into the body of one dude and then he starts making dumb jokes?

Here’s my recommendation: if you want to enjoy this movie, watch the first half and turn it off. Then I’ll tell you how it ends in person. I may even tell you what actually happens and not just make something up that might be better than what actually happened. But, if your movie is only half good, half bad, and your performances are about half good, half bad, I’m pretty sure you don’t get 5 out of 5 from me. Instead, Phantoms gets “You always had an urge to shoot little boys?” out of “5”. That’s how I do.

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