Sunday, January 19, 2014

SyFy vs. The Mynd: Phantom Force (2004)

Freshly introduced into Phantom Force (I’m sorry), the crap version of the BPRD, improbable special forces badass with post-cog abilities Mark Dupree (Richard Grieco, which makes me even more sorry, for myself) is to lead a bunch of idiots into his first assignment – yeah, let the paranormal rookie take command. I suspect Dupree’s boss (Nigel Bennett just wants to see if Dupree is a were-Rourke like his face suggests).

A US submarine has picked up an artifact called the Hades Stone™, and is now doing the whole ghost ship bit, destroying ships whenever it meets them while somehow hiding away in a different dimension. Or something. The Stone’s main power is to open a portal to hell for a bunch of – appropriately for our heroes – lame demon warriors who just happen to look like wrestlers, but we’ll only get to see them later on.

Before the demon warriors arrive for a scene or two, the script puts on a bunch of scenes of non-characters wandering through the ghost submarine they entered thanks to some dimensional portal technology, getting killed by budget conscious invisible powers, and getting at each others’ throats because that’s what you do in a movie, right, even when everyone involved is supposed to be a professional in this kind of situation?

Now, I have a lot of patience with SyFy movies but Phantom Force really sets out to test it quite heavily. It’s not so much that this is much dumber or even more implausible than the SyFy movies I’m willing to tolerate – because it isn’t – but the execution often seems unnecessarily shoddy, turning what should be a fun if silly pulp yarn into something I really had to try very hard to feel a little entertained by. It doesn’t help the film’s case how weak its first half hour is, with little of interest happening in particularly uninteresting ways, so that even the patient viewer will be quite willing to be annoyed once the film’s comparatively better parts finally start.

It’s also less than ideal how little effort director Christian McIntire (him of the quite a bit more watchable Lost Voyage) seems to be putting in. I’m usually willing and able to overlook things like small, badly lit sets, made even more cramped by dubious blocking decisions but McIntire’s whole directorial shtick seems to be to go out of its way to rub the audience’s nose into how bad and small the sets look. In the case of the submarine scenes, you could of course argue it’s meant to provide a feeling of claustrophobia, but then the rest of the film is blocked just as problematically. I suspect McIntire could even shoot a soccer field and make it look cramped, small, and utterly artificial in bad way.

And let’s not even talk about the disinterested staging of the action apart from one of the death scenes. How much of this is McIntire being incompetent, and how much of it has to do with supposed problems between the director and the (at the time still) SciFi Channel that resulted in the director “fighting to get his name removed from the film”, I don’t know. I do know that whoever was behind the camera in any given scene or edited this together afterwards does not give the impression to have given a crap about the resulting film.

On the acting side, we have competent and routine character actors Nigel Bennett and Jim Fyfe clashing painfully with whatever it is Richard Grieco, Tangi Miller and Jenna Gering are supposed to be doing on screen. Particular Grieco’s tendency to stick his bored mug into the camera as a stand-in for doing any acting whatsoever gets old very quickly.

Which, come to think of it, fits the film he is in quite well.

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