Phantoms

on January 23, 1998 by Melissa Morrison
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   An early entry for the worst movie of the year, "Phantoms" would be a "Plan 9 From Outer Space" for Generation X if the acting wasn't better and the effects as skillful as audiences have come to expect. Maybe the story made sense in Dean Koontz's airport paperback, but his screen adaptation is incoherent--something about an ancient evil rising up from the Earth to decimate humanity. This polymorphic evildoer begins with a remote mountain hamlet (wouldn't Manhattan have been splashier for its debut massacre?). Modes of death range from decapitation to marbleizing victims' flesh to draining the brain out through the skull. The result is the cinematic version of a smorgasbord: So many yummy choices that result in one unsatisfying, squishy mess on the plate.
   The first 30 minutes show chilly promise, when young doctor Jenny (Joanna Going of "Inventing the Abbotts") returns from picking up little sister Lisa ("Scream's" Rose McGowan) at the airport to find tiny Snowfield a ghost town. They get help from a young sheriff ("Good Will Hunting's" Ben Affleck) and his deputy (an amusingly twitchy Liev Schreiber, last seen in "Scream 2") and, eventually, Peter O'Toole's sage big-city tabloid columnist. At first, the terror is implied, but when the perpetrator is first revealed as looking like a mutant butterfly, we enter the Ed Wood zone. Eventually, the offending creature-thing takes to occupying the bodies of its victims, requiring the actors to adopt a zombie gaze and open their mouths wide like hungry baby birds so the thing can speak from within.
   For some reason, a sterling cast of young rising stars assembled for this debacle. Their careers will likely recover, but it's a cinephile's tragedy to see Peter O'Toole treading the same kind of mad scientist territory Vincent Price made a career on. That's the scariest thing about "Phantoms."    Starring Peter O'Toole, Ben Affleck and Rose McGowan. Directed by Joe Chappelle. Written by Dean Koontz. Produced by Joel Soisson and Michael Leahy. A Miramax release. Horror/thriller. Rated R for sci-fi violence/gore and language. Running time: 90 min.
Tags: Ben Affleck, Rose McGowan, thriller, Peter O'Toole, Joe Chappelle. Dean Koontz, horror, science-fiction
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