Once they joined the program, their days were numbered.
Simon Tate is an ex-Navy SEAL college student who longs for the glory days of his high school football career. But a nasty knee injury and a steroids scandal have left him more or less sidelined. The closest he gets to the sports scene nowadays is covering intercollegiate athletics for the University newspaper. When his longtime friend and physician Dr. Steven Roanic is accused of murdering the undergraduate daughter of a famous female Senatorial candidate, Tate fights to clear his name. But instead of proving his pal's innocence, he stumbles upon some menacing capsules and a mysterious drug treatment protocol called "Phase II." Seems that several students involved with Dr. Roanic and this remedy have ended up dead from "freak" accidents. Before he knows it, Simon is under attack from unknown forces bent on silencing whatever information he knows. And it's not long until his family and associates are also under attack, all because of some odd pharmaceutical conspiracy involving a cure for one of society's most notorious diseases. With the help of the grieving political aspirant, he uncovers a massive plot to keep sick people ill so that corporate profits stay large. This is known as protecting your market share. This is known as Phase IV.
Imagine this critic's surprise when an expected walk down memory lane with the 1974 intelligent ants sci-fi camp classic Phase IV turned into a potential waking nightmare. Unbeknownst to him, the DVD he held in his hands was another Phase IV, a completely different Dean Cain (ouch!) and Brian Bosworth (YIKES!) made-for-TV style action thriller (NOOOOO!!!). Worse yet, the impending terror was augmented when a casual perusal of the DVD cover indicated that this was a DEJ Production, meaning it was associated with the evil empire itself, the scourge of all right minded film fans, the heinous Blockbuster. But the worst bombshell was saved for last, as a series of acting "oots" and "aboots" alerted the more careful cinematic ear to perk up and notice that, without a doubt, this film was made in Canada! Oh no, eh? But after the DVD started and the aggressive and well-directed ten-minute opening car chase sequence concluded, a smile started to cross his face. He saw this had potential. And then, as the story slowly started to progress and the tale being told began to work its pseudo-suspenseful magic, this particular Phase IV magically turned into an effective conspiracy theory film. With several more successful chases (both in car and on foot), a few carefully crafted plot twists, and an edge of the seat conclusion, all his thoughts of brilliant picnic pests just disappeared. Indeed, this similarly titled thriller stands on its own. Not that it's completely without faults. The use of AIDS as the central disorder pertinent to the conspiracy and cure seems a little insensitive, but at least it is not politicized or stereotyped. And the goofy Mohawked younger B. Bosworth Jr. character who can't seem to properly operate a motor vehicle is stupid. And yet Phase IV works, and works well.
Probably the most amazing thing about Phase IV is how uniformly excellent the acting is, considering the cast. Dean Cain may have been a sufficiently hunky Clark Super Kent Man, but there was never a doubt he would be mistaken for Kevin Spacey or Anthony Hopkins. But in Phase IV he seems to find the right tone between curious skeptic and innocent bystander to grab our attention and sympathy. Even the added perk of being a butt kicking ex-Navy SEAL seems to work for his thirty-year-old college student type. The real revelation is Brian "Believe the Hype" Bosworth, the failed football jock turned sometime thespian. His limited motion picture experience doesn't even begin to prepare one for what a great grim villain he portrays here. Without resorting to outrageous over the top tactics or the screaming heebie jeebies, Boz moves a million miles away from the motionless marble man of Stone Cold to personify persistent, painful menace. He makes a great baddie, something that the Hollywood hit machine should consider the next time they are looking for an angry, athletic badass. With excellent support work from Mimi Kuyzk as the lost among the chaos senatorial candidate Diana Holt and tight direction from Bryan Goeres (a long time first A.D. moving up to the big chair for only the third time), this is a fast paced, energetic movie that may push its credibility at times, but never fails to deliver the goods (the laughable CGI work at the beginning forgiven). Anyone looking for a different take on the whole underhanded scheme genre will find Phase IV a well made, intriguing motion picture ride.
DEJ Productions, a relatively new but still noxious name in DVD production, obviously needs to return to the packaging class at Digital U to relearn how to properly present a movie on this new technological advance. This is not to say that the image transfer is bad. It is actually wonderful, filled with clear night scenes and exceptional color and clarity. But it's only offered in open matte full screen that makes the movie look cheaper than it plays. Sonically, we again are given the inexpensive side of the cinema. The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo is decent, but hardly immersive. In reality, there is very little atmosphere created by the flat, dialogue intensive mix. But the final injury added to this borderline insult of a DVD package is the thought that providing a Spanish language dub of the movie, a trailer, and scene selections make up a disc loaded with—as they label it—"special features." None of which are rated, by the way (just how does someone "rate" a scene selection?). There should have at least been some manner of explanation about the film's creation, perhaps a cast and crew filmography, a small junket style set of interviews, or a director's commentary, allowing Goeres to explain how he accomplished some of the magnificent chase footage.
The lack of extras magnifies DEJ's complete absence of faith in this title, casting it aside like so much other minor grade-B thriller rot. But Phase IV is better than that. Sure, it may not be the monumental accomplishment of Saul Bass' unusual ode to the insect, but neither is it a complete waste of USA Network nonsense. This is one Phase you'll be glad you went through.
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