Thursday, June 18, 2015

Phantom Halo: Shakespeare and Comic Books in Santa Monica

Brothers Beckett and Samuel Emerson have very different ideas when it comes to supporting their dysfunctional family. The former has launched a counterfeit currency operation, while the latter performs Shakespeare on the streets of Santa Monica. You would think they might try something in between, like working retail. One thing’s for sure, their father’s compulsive gambling and binge drinking is not going to pay the bills. In fact, his debts are the start of all the trouble in Antonia Bogdanovich’s Phantom Halo (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New York.

There was a time when Warren Emerson was the most promising Shakespearean actor in the West End. Now he is just a drunken, abusive shell of a man. He taught Samuel to recite Shakespeare and little else. Each night, he tries to appropriate what little money his sons might have earned, stopping to berate Samuel when he catches him reading the Phantom Halo comic book. Beckett has already had a belly full of his father, even before his old London loan shark lays a beating on him as a warning to Warren.

Logically, Beckett proceeds to jumpstart a counterfeiting operation with a former reform school classmate. Frankly, Emerson never really liked the obnoxious Little Larry, but he thinks his mom, Ms. Rose, is hot. Perhaps buying a Bentley with their first batch is a bad idea, especially if they do not want to attract the attention of Little Larry’s former employer, who also happens to be his mother’s sugar daddy.

Whenever we hear Sebastian Roché reciting the Bard, we invariably think how much nicer it would be to see him in a proper Shakespeare production. He can make the classical language sing, but there’s not much he can do with Bogdanovich’s screenplay (co-written with Anne Heffron). It also seems like the severity of his abusiveness constantly vacillates from the sad drunk inadvertently hurting to ones he loves to a vicious emotional sadist. Either way, it is not a heck of a lot of fun spending time with him. Bizarrely, Bogdanovich tries to layer a low-rent Tarantino-esque crime caper over this bleak domestic horror story, adding a dash of Summer of ’42 for further tonal confusion.

As if the film were not odd enough, it features Rebecca Romijn as the Mrs. Robinson character. Still, it is sort of impressive that she took the part, since one would expect former models to try to play younger rather than older. Regardless, she is not the problem here. When the girl next door comes over at her father’s behest to extract Shylockian retribution for Samuel’s shoplifting, you know Bogdanovich (yes, the daughter of Peter, who signed on as executive producer) is trying way too hard to be hip or edgy. One can only imagine the valiant young actress asking “Seriously, I’m supposed to do what?”

Roché’s voiceovers are rich and sonorous and at least Romijn and Luke Kleintank are better together as Ms. Rose and Beckett than you might assume. It is also somewhat amusing to see Tobin Bell (Jigsaw in the Saw franchise) pop up as a gangster named Smashmouth (another colorful name for his resume). However, the narrative is a messy rat’s nest of flawed motivations and logical shortcomings, while the execution is painfully self-defeating. Not recommended but hard to hate on for its earnest clumsiness, Phantom Halo opens tomorrow (6/19) in New York at the Village 7.