|An exciting moment from The Phantom|
|Lee Falk's comic strip|
THE PHANTOM (1996). Director: Simon Wincer.
The Phantom, whose real identity is Kit Walker (Billy Zane), is the 21st in a long line of masked and costumed white heroes in the African island nation of Bengalla. Now that his father (Patrick McGoohan) has been murdered, Walker has taken on the mantle, which means he must temporarily walk out of the life of his lady love, Diana Palmer (Kristy Swanson) -- until she is kidnapped. The Phantom's main adversary is Xander Drax (Treat Williams), who employs a beautiful mercenary and pilot named Sala (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who in turn leads a whole gang of lady pilots. In addition to Drax, and his nasty henchman Quill (James Remar of Blink), the Phantom must also contend with Kabai Sengh (Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa), who runs an infamous and long-lived Brotherhood that operates out of an elaborate hideout in a cave on a mysterious island. Both Drax and Sengh are after three metallic skulls which will create a tremendous energy force when joined together, but both men need to be careful what they wish for ... The Phantom is based on Lee Falk's long-running comic strip (still published today), and is a highly entertaining and well-produced adventure film, although some of the plot points -- especially those concerning the skulls -- are over-familiar and never quite work. But there are some outstanding and thrilling action scenes in the movie, especially one in which The Phantom tries to save the life of plucky little Zak (Chatpong "Jim" Petchlor) as they dangle from a rope bridge that is falling to pieces after the heavy truck they are riding in crashes through it -- this is as good as anything in any classic cliffhanger. Billy Zane is fine as the Phantom, while Treat Williams [Deep Rising] tries to play in a jaunty style that doesn't really work that well, although Zeta-Jones scores as the sexy good girl/bad girl, Sala. Kristy Swanson [Deadly Friend] is pretty and competent but makes much less of an impression in this; she's primarily a television actress. Patrick McGoohan of The Prisoner only appears as a ghost.
I originally saw this movie in theaters and pretty much forgot about it, although it is certainly a worthwhile picture, with striking settings (from Africa to Manhattan to the Bermuda Triangle), a rich score by David Newman, and superb cinematography by David Burr. Perhaps my ho-hum reaction at the time was due to my comparative disinterest in the main character, and the fact that the plot could have used a little work. Still, this is a notable comic strip movie, well-directed by Simon Wincer.
Verdict: Believe it or not, this is better than the cliffhanger serial, The Phantom, ***.