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Film review: Phantom, The

Boring directing and dull script make big-screen adaptation a shadow of its source material.

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Given its director and writer, it's no coincidence that "The Phantom" resembles the Indiana Jones adventures. However, this big-screen adaptation is just a pale shadow of its source material and the three Indiana Jones movies.

Surprisingly lethargic fight scenes, zipless action sequences and a deadly lack of humor prevent "The Phantom" from being one of the more memorable costumed hero films made.

And that's a pity, since it had all the right ingredients to be a real winner: the writer of "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" and "Innerspace"; the director of "Lonesome Dove" and several episodes of "The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles"; handsome shooting locations in Thailand and the United States; and a decent cast.

The film is actually a loose adaptation of the first two Phantom story newspaper serials, written by Lee Falk in 1936. In it, Kit Walker (Billy Zane) is the 21st person to wear the purple garb of "The Ghost Who Walks." Operating from his Skull Cave in the Bengalla jungle. He has sworn to uphold justice after his father (Patrick McGoohan) is slain by Quill (James Remar), a member of the Sengh Brotherhood, the Phantom's sworn enemies.

Set just prior to the start of World War II, "The Phantom" follows Walker as he tries to prevent Xander Drax (Treat Williams) and the Sengh Brotherhood from getting their hands on the Skulls of Touganda, sources of unearthly power.

In between, he is reunited with his college sweetheart, Diana Palmer (Kristy Swanson), discovers that Quill is working for Drax and is given advice by the ghostly apparition of his father.

With such a campy premise, at least by today's standards, it's obvious "The Phantom" could have used a big dose of tongue-in-cheek humor. But screenwriter Jeffrey Boam's attempts to inject a little levity into the film fall flat, while scenes that are supposed to be taken seriously — such as a brief conversation between the Phantom's pet wolf, Devil, and white stallion, Hero — may evoke unintentional laughter from audiences.

The movie's failure falls squarely on Boam (he also co-produced it), as well as Simon Wincer, who directed it in a polite (read boring) manner.

Boam glosses over more interesting details, such as the origin of the Phantom crime-fighting force (retold only in a brief flashback) and the explanation for his skull ring, which leaves a lasting "impression" on villains.

Under Wincer's guidance, the film's fight scenes seem so choreographed and punchless that they make pro wrestling look realistic. Other scenes that should have been quite exciting, including a chase through a zoo and a bridge sequence straight out of "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," have no real tension.

Wincer and Boam may have been trying to market the film to children. But with considerable profanity and violence (several villains and at least two other characters meet gruesome fates), the film pushes its PG rating. Also, setting the films in the 1930s (a mistake also made in "Dick Tracy," among others) is sure to alienate younger viewers.

Of course, that's not to say "The Phantom" is completely without merit. Zane brings the right mix between athleticism and intelligence to his role. Let's just say he fills the purple spandex well. Also, McGoohan steals the scenes he's in, while Remar and Catherine Zeta Jones, as a female pilot/pirate, are good in their brief appearances.

As the Phantom's nemesis, Williams is just awful, though. Swanson ("Buffy, The Vampire Slayer") seemingly sleepwalks through her role and is so bland that her romance with the Phantom is one of the film's big weaknesses.