The idea of a man turning invisible has long fascinated science
fiction writers and filmmakers. Of course, the classic take on this is
1933's THE INVISIBLE MAN, helmed by James Whale and starring
Claude Rains. Even with its now primitive seeming special effects,
that film remains a marvel and serves as one of the antecedents for
the now shopworn cliche of the mad scientist. It was clearly the
inspiration for HOLLOW MAN, a 21st Century updating of the tale
replete with state-of-the-art special effects and thematic undercurrent
about the dangers of messing with Mother Nature. Andrew W Marlowe
(who wrote the enjoyable AIR FORCE ONE (1997) and then foisted
1999's execrable Arnold Schwarzenneger apocalyptic vehicle
END OF DAYS on unsuspecting audiences) penned the script for this
version, working from a story he concocted with Gary Scott Thompson.
Unfortunately, instead of progressing as a writer, he shows little
facility with the medium. His dialogue is clunky and leaden and the cast
struggles gamely to deliver it without offering comment. While
undoubtedly there could be an intriguing psychological character
study done about scientists essentially playing God, this isn't it.
The hiring of director Paul Verhoeven boded well, at least on
paper. The Dutch-born director had already demonstrated his visual
flair for sci-fi with ROBOCOP and the much-maligned
STARSHIP TROOPERS and a firm grasp of the nuances of
psychological in THE FOURTH MAN and even BASIC INSTINCT.
From the gruesome opening shot of a mouse being fed to an invisible
cat, HOLLOW MAN is pitched at a level that invokes disbelief. Quickly
and in very broad strokes, the main characters are introduced.
Sebastian Caine (Kevin Bacon) is an overbearing egotist running a
top secret government project in a subterranean vault wherein
animals are made invisible. At the start of the film, he is attempting
to create the serum that will reverse the process. (Between peeping
on his neighbor, a stunning brunette with a penchant for shedding
her clothes in full view of open windows.) The other members of
Sebastian's research team include Sarah, a cantankerous veterinarian
(Kim Dickens), technicians Frank (Joey Slotnick) and the token
minority Janice (Mary Jo Randle), Carter (Greg Grunberg), Linda
McKay (Elisabeth Shue), Caine former girlfriend, and Matt
Kensington (Josh Brolin), Linda's current secret boyfriend. There
are personality conflicts and Caine even is given the line "I am God"
to demonstrate his hubris.
After successfully turning an invisible gorilla back (in a rather
unpleasant scene to watch), Caine determines to be the first human
to undergo the treatment, keeping the matter secret from the Pentagon
bureaucrat (William Devane) to whom he reports. Of course, the
experiment works (there wouldn't be a movie if it doesn't) but the
antidote fails and Sebastian doesn't like the idea of being confined
and turned into a caged animal. There are hints that the serum
begins to make him insane: He first plays pranks on the various
members of the research team, but over time, his demeanor becomes
Having been doused in latex so he can be seen, Sebastian
utilizes the opportunity to escape and here is where the script begins
to falter. He decides to attack and rape his neighbor in a very
horrifying sequence. With his taste for blood whetted, he goes on
to commit his first murder. When Linda and Matt threaten to go to
the Pentagon and reveal all, Sebastian (who has spied on them
and discovered they are lovers) seeks revenge. He traps the research
staff in their underground lair and one by one begins to pick them
off. By this point the filmmakers have abandoned all semblance of
coherency and the film devolves into a slasher film.
It's unfortunate that several fine actors are stranded in this
muck. Given the right material, Kevin Bacon can be an effective
leading man and the incarnation of evil (remember him in SLEEPERS?)
Here, he clearly is going through the motions. Elisabeth Shue may
never find another role as complex as Sera in LEAVING LAS VEGAS.
In HOLLOW MAN, she projects intelligence but she lacks a gravity
to be fully believable as a scientist. Josh Brolin is barely given
anything to do except verbally spar with Bacon and I doubt even
Olivier and Gielgud could have made the banal dialogue come alive.
Kim Dickens attempts to make an impression but her strident
entrance into the film dilutes any sympathy for her character.
Verhoeven seems at a loss on how to make the film visually
interesting and his connect-the-dots direction goes completely haywire
in the final sequences when Bacon's Caine terrorizes the others. In
very few instances does he generate any real suspense and the
numerous resurrections of various characters and massive explosions
begin to grow wearisome. The film also doesn't so much end as
just peter out overcome by its own pretensions. Ultimately,
HOLLOW MAN ends up as empty as its protagonist.
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, language
and some sexuality/nudity
Running Time: 114 mins.
|© 2007 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.