(On Cable TV, August 2017) I’ve never been more than a very lukewarm X-Phile (I had planned to watch the series seriously once it ended, but the end was such a mess that I never went back), so it’s not as if I was asking the world out of The X-Files: I Want to Believe. Alas, this underwhelming sequel fails to meet even undemanding standards. Fatally conceived as a meaningless monster-of-the-week episode rather than something advancing the overarching mythology of the series, I Want to Believe sputters a long time on the basic charm and chemistry of David Duchovny (likably roguish with or without a beard) and Gillian Anderson (looking better than ever with longer hair), but reuniting with those two characters as they work out their relationship and what they want to do against the evil of the world isn’t quite enough to satisfy. The central plot is dull as dirt, and occasional visual flourishes from writer/director Chris Carter aren’t nearly enough to keep anyone interested. The ending is pat, leaving us again with our sympathy for Mulder and Scully to pick up the slack. I’ve waited nearly ten years before giving this one a try, but there really wasn’t any reason to hurry.
(Video on Demand, June 2013) The submarine-movie subgenre is interesting in that there are only so many things you can do, story-wise, aboard a submarine. Sense of isolation; claustrophobia; being stuck with an insane individual; nuclear weapons (sometimes); submarine fights; ocean dangers; the list is finite, and nearly every submarine movie ever made seems to play with the same ideas. Phantom is no exception: while “based on a true story” (albeit the most incredible interpretation of events, with an added dash of magic science to make things even less plausible), it’s resoundingly familiar in the way it re-uses common plot elements. That’s not necessarily a bad thing –execution is everything, and writer/director Todd Robinson does a generally acceptable job at transforming a fairly low budget into a cold-war nuclear thriller. A good chunk of the film’s success can be attributed to a trio of capable veteran actors: Ed Harris as the flawed captain, William Fichtner as his capable lieutenant and David Duchovny as a potentially dangerous outsider. The film has enough credibility to carry audiences across the less-believable moments, and the sense of tension that comes from being confined in such a small space for so long is also good enough to entertain. But while Phantom is generally fine for audiences with an interest in its style or subject matter, “generally fine” isn’t enough to elevate it above its subgenre for a wider audience. It doesn’t help that the film shoots itself in the foot with an ending that tries to fit narrative consolation with cold hard historical fact. While the result will be just entertaining enough to satisfy those who are predisposed toward submarine movies in general, Phantom doesn’t have what it takes to reach a much bigger audience.