I love big, bold, colourful feature film updates of vintage 1930’s pulp comic books or radio plays and Simon Wincer’s The Phantom is just an absolute blast of escapism that’ll put a smile on your face no matter what. These days Billy Zane has become kind of a forgotten comedic totem but people forget what genuine charisma and star power he once had, and he rocks it here as Kit Walker aka The Phantom, a jungle born superhero descended from a long line of Phantoms before him, thus creating the reputation of being immortal, at least in his enemy’s eyes. Clad in a swanky purple suit with dual colt pistols and joined by a horse and a trusty wolf named ‘Devil’ at his side, he’s probably one of the most aesthetic superheroes I’ve ever seen in a film and I wish this led to sequels. Here he must protect three sacred skulls with supernatural power from power mad, psychopathic NYC tycoon Xander Drax (Treat Williams), fighting side by side with intrepid reporter Diana Palmer (Kristy Swanson) through a series of exciting adventure set pieces in incredibly exotic, gorgeous locations around the world. Zane is terrific and gives The Phantom just the right mixture of cavalier attitude, genuine empathy and swashbuckling magnetism, plus he rocks that suit solidly, which given this suit, not all actors could do and be taken seriously at it. Williams is a hammy hoot as Drax but his thunder is ever so slightly stolen by two terrific secondary villains: James Remar as Quill, a sort of evil doppelgänger version of Indiana Jones and Catherine Zeta Jones as Sala, an impossibly bad tempered femme fatale who has the hots for the Phantom and goes through a hilariously conflicted meltdown mid-film. The supporting roster is excellent and includes Bill Smitrovitch, Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa, Leon Russom, Jon Tenney, David Proval, John Capodice and the great Patrick McGoohan as the ghost of Phantom’s father who appears to him as voice of counsel and occasionally wingman. I thought this was just a brilliant good time, a solid, beautifully retro old school adventure flick and I was disappointed to read that it was a box office flop. It’s like the Lone Rangers, the Indiana Joenses, The Rocketeers, the Sky Captains, just this rollicking old world American pulp hero aesthetic that translates so well into action adventure in cinema. Oh and watch for a sly reference to William Friedkin’s Sorcerer. Great film.
I never bothered too much with the TV version of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and didn’t even know it was based on a movie until I saw that it’d be playing on the big screen this week. Slight, silly and saturated in 80’s style, this was an absolute blast, a ton of fun and a totally hilarious culture clash between brooding gothic bloodsuckers and mouthy, fashionista valley girls. Kristy Swanson is Buffy, an attitude driven high school chick who spends her days at the mall, planning dances and hanging around with her jock boyfriend. That all ends when the mysterious Merrick (Donald Sutherland) recruits her for a centuries old battle against immortal vampires that’s about to play out right in the valley. She’s cynical, skeptical and reluctant as most teenagers are to do anything outside their usual bubble but rises to the occasion and discovers she has badass hidden talents for kicking vampire ass. Joining forces with moody bad boy Pike (the late Luke Perry), she goes head on with the evil vampire king Lothos (Rutger Hauer) and his goofy henchman Amilyn (Paul ‘Pee Wee Herman’ Reubens) in a deadly battle that spills into the senior prom dance for hilarious results. I really didn’t expect to like this as much as I did but the thing is just so damn fun. Swanson has way more charisma and beauty than Sarah Michelle and really gives a good turn as someone who is outwardly insufferable and spacey but reveals that’s all an act, something we all remember doing in high school at some point. Sutherland plays it grave and serious and as a result comes off as hilarious but has terrific exasperated paternal chemistry with Buffy. Hauer is a typically implosive and intense but here he’s having an extroverted ball, playing this debonair vamp like a pimp from hell in a smoking jacket and swanky white gloves. Reubens is straight up silly and gets one of the most inexplicably bizarre and hysterical death scenes that’s so melodramatic it needs to carry over into a post credits scene. The cast is stacked and includes early career work from Hilary Swank, a loopy David Arquette, Sasha Jenson, Natasha Gregson Warner, Stephen Root, Candy Clark, Sasha Jenson, Slash, Thomas Jane, Ricki Lake, Seth Green, Alexis Arquette and Ben Affleck. Wow. I loved this and loved how I didn’t expect to be so hot on it but got blindsided. Beautiful production value, wicked sharp comedic scrip, fun performances and an appropriately synthy 80’s score. Oh, and watch for the Mystery Machine from Scion Doo too.