The teen hides comic books inside a book of Shakespeare’s plays. His favorite stories concern a superhero, The Phantom Halo.
But Dad doesn’t approve. When he’s sober, he quotes Shakespeare. He does that when he’s drunk, too.
So Sam, played by Thomas Brodie-Sangster of “The Maze Runner,” is constantly being quizzed on The Bard, performing monologues and soliloquies.
“At your age,” the old man (Sebastian Roche) spits, “I was better!”
It’s the way the plays are used that gives novelty to the drama “Phantom Halo,” the setting and the unexpected characters who quote Shakespeare. This is a family of down-and-outs, petty thieves. But their father knows poetry and perhaps had a shot at a career in the arts. All he’s passed on to his boys is a way to abuse that education.
Sam is the hook, reciting the Bard in a monk’s cowl, tossing a little British accent and British culture at passersby in an L.A. street mall. He mesmerizes viewers while his older brother Beckett (Luke Kleintank) picks their pockets.
Beckett wants to pay their bills, get a little money ahead, move up in the world. But if the old man who named them “Samuel” and “Beckett” finds his stash, it’ll all go to booze and gambling.
That’s the germ of an idea behind Antonia Bogdanovich’s film, one she proceeds to complicate with a loan shark (Gbenga Akinnagbe), pursuing the father of the family, counterfeit cash and the divorced, “vulnerable” and apparently rich mom (Rebecca Romijn, quite good) of one of Beckett’s classmates.
“Vulnerability is not hot. Hot is hot.”
These added complications are but distractions from the fascinating family dynamic the film sets up — an “artist” reduced to sending his kids out to shoplift, pick pockets and keep them afloat.
The performances are believable enough. But the film’s violence is both expected and absurdly random, the older woman romance thing played out before it begins and the rising stakes meekly handled, a burden that a film this slight cannot carry.
Bogdanovich — yes, she’s Peter Bogdanovich’s daughter — loses whatever point she was making with the comic book tie-in. It’s far too obvious far too early in the film that she’s chasing a phantom only she sees and cares about.
MPAA Rating: R for violence, language and brief sexuality
Cast: Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Rebecca Romijn, Luke Kleintank, Sebastian Roche
Credits: Directed by Antonia Bogdanovich, written by Anne Hefron and Antonia Bogdanovich. An ARC Entertainment release.
Running time: 1:29