Pete Riley (Taylor Handley), a seventeen year old working at the local multiplex, is excited that the theater is hosting a major movie premiere with many Hollywood celebrities in attendance. Aiming for a promotion, to land the money he thinks necessary to court the girl of his dreams, Pete goes all out to ensure the big night goes off without a hitch. Only to be saddled with watching over his movie obsessed younger siblings: Karen (Caitlin Wachs) and Brian (Jacob Smith) while single mom Julie (Corinne Bohrer) goes out on a date. As if keeping the kids in line and pacifying irate manager Shawn MacGibbon (Rich Hutchman) were not stressful enough the theater suddenly erupts into mayhem. Poor Pete struggles to cope with malfunctioning popcorn machines, disappearing staff and technical difficulties plaguing every screen. All seemingly caused by a mysterious masked figure roaming the halls only to vanish without a trace. Junior detectives Karen and Brian are on the case, intrigued by the legend of a mysterious Phantom rumoured to have haunted the old movie theater and now seeking revenge.
Such is the potency of the premise devised by French author Gaston Leroux, The Phantom of the Opera has arguably as many contemporized 'reboots' as faithful period adaptations. Joining the ranks of The Phantom of Hollywood (1974), Brian De Palma's excellent Phantom of the Paradise (1974) and Phantom of the Mall: Eric's Revenge (1989) we have Phantom of the Megaplex. One of Disney Channel's more fondly remembered spooky TV movies, it aired originally on Halloween in 2000. Although all but the most easily perturbed children will find it thoroughly lighthearted and largely scare-free the film has other merits. Infused with a disarmingly sincere love of cinema and, more unusually, the venues in which movies are screened the film delivers a surprisingly accurate depiction of what it is like to work in a multiplex. Particularly in the late Nineties. Capturing the tween-friendly milieu in all its gaudy glory, the film marvels at the shiny computer controlled joys of the multiplex the way older movies wax nostalgic about Radio City Music Hall. Back in 2000 old movie theaters had been largely usurped by blander, more impersonal and corporate multiplex chains. Yet for a generation of millennials for whom streaming services have all but eclipsed the theatrical experience, Phantom of the Multiplex has its own unique nostalgic charm.
Writer Stu Krieger - who moved from Seventies teen dramas Goodbye, Franklin High (1978) and Hanging on a Star (1978) to a long career scripting animation (The Land Before Time (1988), A Troll in Central Park (1994) and Disney TV fare - assembles a fairly nuanced, peppy narrative populated by likable, well-defined characters that, refreshingly for this sub-genre, don't come across like cartoons. The central theme that movies reconnect us with the joy in life is tied in with Pete's growing realization that obsessing over his career path has made him miss out on his own youth. While Pete's romantic subplot is under-developed (love interest Caitlin (Heather Bertram) barely has any lines let alone personality) the relationship between big brother and amateur sleuths Karen and Brian proves ultimately more heartwarming. In the midst of zany comedy antics the script also features a scene wherein two characters have a disarmingly truthful conversation about how families cope with loss crouched in a cheesy metaphor about horticulture. Just one example of Krieger's snappy and winningly offbeat dialogue.
If the shiny, sanitized Disney Channel palette somewhat hinders the film's efforts to weave a spooky atmosphere, director Blair Treu still manages to pull off the odd suspenseful moment. And then there is Hollywood legend Mickey Rooney as Movie Mason, an elderly stalwart of the theater and self-styled custodian of 'movie magic.' He functions as both a red herring and mouthpiece for various pithy and charming lines about the wonder of cinema ("Life is like a good movie. Every moment should be savoured"). And also performs a rendition of that old Johnny Mercer favourite: "Hooray for Hollywood." Maintaining a lively pace with a likable level of slapstick invention and heart, Phantom of the Megaplex gallops along to a fun climax wherein a sword-wielding Pete leaps atop a giant inflatable Godzilla as it stomps through the film premiere. You don't see that every day.