Sorry, Phantom, but the purple suit has got to go. No amount of buff bod can make an audience take a superhero in bright purple seriously.
And while we're at it, that script has got to go, too. Screenwriter Jeffrey Boam apparently studied the first two "Indiana Jones" movies so thoroughly -- so that he could write "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" -- that he's carried many of the motifs to "The Phantom."
The result is not breathtaking excitement, but rather a stunning lack of originality.
That rope bridge? Right out of "Temple of Doom."
That scene where the bad guy uses a magic skull spouting laser-like light to pinpoint the location of another magic skull on a map? Yep, the Map Room scene in "Raiders."
Indy grabbed ahold of an enemy submarine and rode it to an island; the Phantom grabs ahold of the enemy plane and rides it to an island. And yet what this cinematic realization of the comic "The Phantom" lacks, unlike the Indy movies, is character.
Billy Zane plays the hero in purple, also known as "The Ghost Who Walks," and while he brings charm and good looks to the role (though we see him all-too-briefly without the mask), he isn't given anything interesting to say.
Kristy Swanson ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer") plays his love interest, a spunky rich girl with a taste for adventure, and she's kind of a kick -- but this is no "Buffy," and her character isn't developed either.
What we get instead of character is lots of stunts, especially involving airplanes and horses, and while they're superficially impressive, one keeps wondering why we should care that these folks are dangling from a plane that's about to crash into a mountain. The action, as directed by Simon Wincer ("Operation Dumbo Drop"), is actually boring.
What might have saved this movie is camp. There are several silly motifs: For instance, Patrick McGoohan, as the Phantom's dad, keeps popping up out of nowhere to talk to Phantom Jr. as a ghost, Obi-Wan style. Treat Williams as villain Xander Drax really hams it up, too.
But the humor is half-hearted, and the story is slight. There are a few witty lines (for instance, the Phantom's servant dryly tells a visitor, "No smoking in the Skull Cave"), but the movie can't make up its mind whether it wants to be an action thriller about good and evil or a cartoon.
At least "The Shadow," another comic-book film that didn't quite make it, had some really spectacular art deco sets. You need something to look at while you're waiting for the movie to be over.
Starring Billy Zane and Kristy Swanson
Directed by Simon Wincer
Released by Paramount Pictures
Rated PG (profanity, violence)
Sun score *
Pub Date: 6/07/96