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The Phantom



I'm one of the few people who thinks there's nothing inherently wrong with 1996's "The Phantom," which featured Billy Zane as the purple-suited superhero. Back then, comic-book movies weren't dime-a-dozen as they are today, so you happily took what you could get.

I remember it being promoted with the entirely goofy tagline of "Slam evil!" and a skull-ring giveaway at participating Subway restaurants. (The meatball sub lover in me eBay-ed mine long ago.) It bombed, but it's not bad at all. Its failure had more to do with The Phantom never having been a major player on the level of Bats or Supes, who were about the only A-list actioners to have graced the big screen at the time.

Perhaps that's why 2009's "The Phantom" — "reimagined and reloaded," per the Blu-ray's box — was never intended for multiplexes. Instead, the Canadian production debuted on cable's Syfy channel. The Internet scoffed when they heard that announcement, as the web's "original movies" aren't known for raising the bar —? "Sharktopus," anyone? —? but turns out, it's pretty good!

"General Hopsital" himbo Ryan Carnes assumes the role. He starts the film as Chris Moore, a parkour-loving gadabout, until he's informed that he's actually Kit Walker, the only surviving member of the Walker men who, for generations, have suited up to rid the world of crime. Although the father he never knew died 22 years ago, the world needs Chris/Kit now.

Then begins his Phantom training in the jungle, and these sequences turn out to be the highlight. The second half of the film finds him sporting a whole new costume as he attempts to squash Isabella Rossellini's plan to turn any human into an unwitting assassin, à la "The Manchurian Candidate."

Director Paolo Barzman shoots "The Phantom" with crisp, feature-film quality, shooting for high thrills on a non-blockbuster budget, and mostly making it. Although three hours is one-third too long for this sort of thing — the love subplot with a fiery EMT (Cameron Goodman) could be dropped in favor of efficiency — it moves pretty quickly, with enough high-tech action to hold interest.

The Blu-ray contains nothing more than two brief interviews and a trailer, but the fact that they were able to reboot The Phantom successfully is gift enough. Let it not be The Ghost Who Walks' final adventure. —Rod Lott


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