When I think of invisible men, I picture earnest scientists who somehow manage to vanish and use this ability to right wrongs, and maybe have a little innocent fun. But what if it’s a darker side of the human mind that found itself fulfilled by the capacity to do whatever you want without abybody knowing about it? Is the difference between the average guy and a criminal whether he thinks he can get away with it? Here a few of the questions asked in Paul Verhoeven’s latest thriller.
Kevin Bacon stars as Sebastian Caine, an arrogant but brilliant scientist whose secretive studies are bankrolled by the Pentagon. In his high tech labs, he’s testing a way he found through quantum reorganization (basically, messing with DNA) to make a living thing invisible to the human eye. This process has been successful with dogs and primates, though reversing it is touchy and the whole thing is far from being tuned out perfectly. But Caine’s losing patience, and he decides to ignore the red tape and to test the radiated serum on himself, even though the military commitee hasn’t authorized experimentation on humans. So before long, Caine’s an unseen presence and he loves it. Sort of.
You see, he’s “prisoner” of his labs, where a small crew of technicians and colleagues keep him under observation around the clock, and that’s no fun. And when it appears it’ll take much longer than planned to bring him back, he gets restless. He wants to get out. He wants to test drive his new “gift” in the world. The power it gives him gets to his head, or maybe it’s a side effect of the serum, but he’s getting some bad ideas. And when he finds out his former flame and colleague (Elizabeth Shue) has been doing another scientist in their research team (Josh Brolin), he just snaps…
Verhoeven is a filmmaker who really knows how to craft stunning set pieces, but he can also be indulgent and misdirected ; his “Showgirls” has to be one of the silliest movies ever. As for “Hollow Man”, it features both genuine ultraviolent thrills and goofy but enjoyable touches. Despite its costly, state of the art special effects, at its core it’s little more than a well oiled B movie. The script by Andrew Marlowe has an interesting premise, and it raises some moral issues, but the characters are one dimensional and the dialogue is clunky. But thanks to Verhoeven’s dynamic work behind the camera and to the aforementioned impressive FX, “Hollow Man” remains trashy fun.
Kevin Bacon is fun to watch as as the cocksure scientist who always has a cynical bon mot to spare, and he’s also effectively menacing in the second half of the film. Opposite him, Elizabeth Shue is fun to watch in Ripley mode, you know, the cute thoughtful chick who ain’t afraid to open up a can of whup ass when necessary. In fact, the whole third act borrows from Alien, which is also about a team of scientists trapped in a limited environment with a murderous creature that just won’t die. Except instead of a fanged, acid spitting outer space monster, the enemy here is an invisible man. Big difference, you might say. Well, yes actually.
The one thing this derivative, by the numbers sci fi thriller has to show that we haven’t seen before is its titular hollow man. It’s amazing how they have him disappear gradually layer by layer, first skin, then muscles, organs and finally skeleton, and I like how you never know afterwards where Bacon is until water, some or something else draws out his silhouette. Pretty creepy and clever visual aid from Verhoeven, who also succeeds at building suspense through the film all the way to the very cool elevator shaft climax.
Hollow Man is one of these movies that you know aren’t very good but still enjoy. Before you can say “How stup..”, something cool happens and you go “That rocks!”. That oughta make it worth seeing I guess.