It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Did you know that if a certain kind of worm learns how to solve a maze, and then you grind it up and feed it to other worms, the other worms will then be able to negotiate the maze on their first try? That's one of the scientific nuggets supplied in "Phantoms,'' a movie, based on the popular Dean Koontz novel, that seems to have been made by grinding up other films and feeding them to this one.
As the movie opens, two sisters arrive by Jeep in a quaint mountain town that seems suspiciously quiet, and no wonder: Everybody seems to be dead. Some of them have died rather suddenly. The baker's wife, for example. Her hands still grip the rolling pin. Just her hands. The rest of her is elsewhere.
The sisters (Rose McGowan and Joanna Going) find more ominous signs. A dead deputy sheriff, for example. And phones that don't work--but then one does. The older sister picks it up. "Who are you? What do you want?'' she asks. It is a test of great acting to be able to say those ancient lines as if you mean them. A test like many others that this movie fails.
The sheriff turns up. He is played by Ben Affleck, wearing an absurd cowboy hat that looks like the kind of unsold stock they unload on city slickers at the end of the season. He is accompanied by another deputy (Nicky Katt), who wears an identical hat. Don't they know it's a rule in the movies: Hero wears neat hat, sidekick wears funny hat? Joining the two young women, they search the town, and find a desperate message written in lipstick on a mirror, which (I'm jumping ahead now) leads them to Dr. Timothy Flyte (Peter O'Toole), an editor of the kind of supermarket rag that features babies with 9-pound ears. Dr. Flyte and Army troops soon arrive in the small town, dressed like ghostbusters, to get to the bottom of the mystery. "What kind of threat are we dealing with here--biological, chemical or other?'' he's asked. "I'm leaning toward 'other,' '' he replies, with all the wisdom and poignancy of a man who once played "Lawrence of Arabia" and is now playing Dr. Timothy Flyte.
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