The Phantom is both an imaginative and unfortunately costumed drama | None | Uncle Barky's Bytes

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Syfy's new four-hour update of The Phantom is both an imaginative and unfortunately costumed drama


Ryan Carnes in new techno-garb as The Phantom. Syfy photo

The Halmis, Robert Sr. and Jr., have done quite a lot of "re-imagining" over the years.

Noah's Ark, their 1999 NBC miniseries, put the fabled biblical seafarer at the mercy of a sea pirates attack.

More recently, last year's Alice on Syfy made a martial arts expert of the otherwise reluctant Wonderland heroine.

Their latest "all-new, updated adventure," also for Syfy, shucks the time-honored purple tights worn by The Phantom. We're told that the previous incarnation -- Phantom No. 21 in a five century old replacement program -- "loathed the old suit. He thought it was too theatrical."

The new outfit is armored, bulletproof, visored and altogether pretty ridiculously Robocop-ish. Its latest inhabitant, Chris Moore/Kit Walker, is played by the rather physically unimposing Ryan Carnes (Desperate Housewives), who has a Brad Pitt-ish look to him.

Billed as a "four-hour movie event," The Phantom will be presented in one big gulp on Father's Day from 6 to 10 p.m. (central). And if you can get past the unfortunate choice of costume, it's decently entertaining and notably bloodier than any previous Halmi production.

This time around, 24-year-old Chris Moore is a restless New York City-based college student who likes to ParCour with his best pal. As a little kid he witnessed the murder of his mother, but has pretty much blanked this out. And his goodly foster parents have never told him that he's adopted.

Chris quickly hooks up with cute, brainy and resourceful paramedic Renny Davidson (Cameron Goodman), who becomes his soulmate before tragedy intervenes in the form of grisly death and painful truths imposed by a mysterious figure named Abel Vandermaark (Jean Marchand).

Meanwhile, the relentless and super-sinister Singh Brotherhood, which has bedeviled various Phantoms since 1536, is plotting further mayhem via Flicker, a clandestine indoctrination system that turns innocents into killers. Its maestro is Dr. Bella Lithia, played by venerable Isabella Rossellini in a page boy blonde 'do.

Not everything has been changed. The future Phantom still ends up on Bengalla Island, where he's trained to suck it up and get with the program. Besides the demanding Vandermaark, there's exotic Guran (Sandrine Holt), who seems to have a crush on Chris/Kit while poor Remmy wonders what the hell happened to him.

Enroute to becoming the new Phantom, he learns that his late dad got around quite a bit as the previous one. Phantom 21's derring-do even included helping Frank Sinatra reclaim his son, Frank Jr., from kidnappers. Who knew?

The concluding two hours of The Phantom find our hero dividing his time between Bengalla and Manhattan, where an assassination plot is being orchestrated by the really nasty Brotherhood leader, Raatib Singh (Cas Anvar). There's ample action, but things also bog down. What had been a pretty impressive buildup lapses into a fairly standard-issue series of tire-squealing action scenes and plot twists that don't quite gain traction.

Still, there's an OK denouement and an intriguing reboot of the Brotherhood that sets up a sequel if this one flies. Should that happen, it'd be best to get The Phantom back in the no-frills, purple super hero suit that made him famous in the original 1936 comic strip. Billy Zane also looked sharp in it throughout the under-rated 1996 feature film.

In short, you just shouldn't mess with these essential basics. So I hate to think what the Halmis might do if they ever get their hands on the Superman or Batman franchises.

GRADE: B-minus