For years, the speculation concerning a big-screen adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber's smash hit musical The Phantom Of The Opera centered on the casting of the title role. An entire nation of teddy-bear-collecting Phantom fans campaigned relentlessly for Michael Crawford to reprise the stage role with which he will always be identified. Antonio Banderas fought hard to snag the role for himself. Suffering through all 143 interminable minutes of the long-awaited, long-overdue, way-too-long Phantom adaptation, it's easy to presume that either actor would have been preferable to Gerard Butler, the semi-unknown whom director Joel Schumacher eventually cast.
A veteran of such turkeys as Dracula 2000 and Timeline, Butler struggles valiantly, but he never remotely makes the role his own. In order for the film to work emotionally, the actor playing the Phantom has to dominate it in spite of scant screen time and only partial use of his face. Alas, Butler barely registers, and it certainly doesn't help that he strains to hit the high notes. Ultimately, all he brings to the role is chiseled good looks, which isn't necessarily a plus for someone playing one of pop culture's most famous ghouls.
Bringing Webber's stage sensation to the screen with a maximum of eye-popping production design but a minimum of ingenuity, Schumacher cast dewy Emmy Rossum as a chorus girl who's been trained from an early age by Butler's brilliant-but-mercurial tutor-composer-mentor-engineer-fiendish renaissance freak. Butler periodically whisks Rossum away to his underground lair through what looks like an elaborate theme-park water ride, but soon finds he must share Rossum's attention (and hypnotically heaving cleavage) with blandly handsome opera patron Patrick Wilson.
Adding an additional layer of cheese to a project that already reeks hopelessly of Velveeta, Schumacher pumps up the empty spectacle, stranding his fetching-but-lifeless mannequins amid giant sets and overblown production numbers. But where someone like Brian De Palma (who already covered this territory much more effectively with Phantom Of The Paradise) or Baz Luhrmann might have been able to elevate Webber's tawdry material to operatic (or at least rock-operatic) heights, Schumacher's gothic Grand Guignol, a half-baked mashup of Meatloaf pop and Lon Chaney horror-show, just feels tacky.