J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Phoenix Incident: What Happened Over Barry Goldwater Range?

It brought out the Fox Mulder in Arizona Governor Fife Symington. Although he initially dismissed the notion the mysterious lights seen moving in unison over Barry Goldwater Range were extraterrestrial, he later admitted he wasn’t quite sure about that. Of course, there are plenty of UFO conspiracy theorists who are absolutely, positively convinced of the affirmative. The mysteries surrounding the “Phoenix Lights” get the mock-doc-slash-found footage treatment in Keith Arem’s Phoenix Incident (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in Los Angeles.

First of all, how cool is it that the Air Force renamed Luke AFB’s bombing range the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range? It almost makes you willing to overlook their X-Files-style cover-up. However, Arem’s ostensive documentary suggests the Phoenix Lights played a role in the disappearance of four, primarily ex-military buddies who disappeared during guys’ weekend in the mountains (that they managed to film through glaring contrivances).

It seems a wildly unstable and virulently antisocial hermit by the name of Walton S. Grayson was initially a suspect in their presumed murders, for obvious good reasons. However, the Air Force stepped in, taking Grayson into custody and pressuring the coroner’s office into blaming it all on an animal attack. Though never charged, Grayson remained incommunicado for years, but frankly that would be the least tragic aspect of the tale. Understandably, the surviving family members want answers, which Arem will partially supply with shadowy Deep Throat sources, speaking in murky lighting, under conditions of anonymity.

Arem earns a lot of credit for faking it so real. Despite his acknowledged use of dramatic “recreations,” many viewers inclined to believe will probably take it for complete Gospel. The archival footage of Symington and Sen. John McCain (who wanted better answers but remained skeptical of extraterrestrial theories) really set the hook, anchoring the outlandish conspiracy speculation to the real world. However, when the aliens finally show themselves, they look suspiciously derivative of the Predator and Alien creature designs.

As Grayson, Michael Adamthwaite is suitably mangy and snarling, while Scot Ruggles plays the informant with authoritative intensity. However, only Travis Willingham’s Mitch Adams really registers among four men, by virtue of superior energy level and full-throated volume. Of course, this is not conceived as an actor’s showcase. In fact, Arem and company would probably prefer you did not think of them as thesps at all.

If you are in the mood for some paranormal paranoia, Incident is a surprisingly polished offering. On the other hand, if you are logical and incredulous by nature, it is not likely to convince you of anything. Still, as a UFO flick, it is better than Ejecta and Hanger 10 (but not as strong as Skinwalker Ranch). Recommended for the faithful fringe, Phoenix Incident opens tomorrow (4/8) at the Laemmle NoHo in Los Angeles.