Hollow Man

Friday August 4, 2000

     Like a demented salesman, invisible man Sebastian Caine (Kevin Bacon) keeps trying to convince us of the virtues of not being seen. "You have no idea how much fun this is," he says, adding later, "You have no idea what it's like, the power, the freedom." He's right about that much: We have no idea.
     Maybe it's inevitable, given its name, but the most remarkable thing about "Hollow Man" is how insubstantial it is. Despite a wealth of special effects and direction by Paul Verhoeven, Mr. Over-the-Top himself, this movie is surprisingly inert, more dull than anything else, with little to recommend it on any level. Even the classic 1933 James Whale-Claude Rains "Invisible Man" manages, its great age notwithstanding, to do a more imaginative job of putting invisibility on the screen.
     Not helping things is the voyeuristic bent of the film's Andrew W. Marlowe screenplay. For, despite his crowing about invisibility's limitless possibilities, all Caine can think of to do when he is out of sight is torment, harass, humiliate and in general abuse women who can't see him. As another character mildly but accurately puts it: "The whole thing gives me the creeps."
     Researcher Caine is surely a familiar type: the cocky, cerebral scientist who drives a fast sports convertible, doesn't sleep much because DaVinci didn't and tells everyone who'll listen that "I am a god---- genius."
     Mostly the people who listen are those who have to--Caine's staff on the hush-hush Pentagon-funded project on invisibility he runs in a secret underground location in Washington, D.C. Second in command is Linda McKay (Elisabeth Shue), Caine's former girlfriend who is now secretly involved with teammate Matthew Kensington (Josh Brolin). Quite the cozy little group.
     It turns out that making living things invisible is the easy part of the process; Caine's lab features several animals, including a cranky gorilla named Isabelle, who've made the transformation and can only be seen with the aid of infrared goggles. Getting them back to where the naked eye can see them has proved to be more problematical.
     Caine soon figures that one out, but he lies to his superiors at the Pentagon and says he's still working on it. He doesn't want his discovery to go through a boring testing process; he wants to try it out himself. Now. "You don't make history by following rules," he insists. "You make it by seizing the moment."
     Even when people could see him, Caine was never the nicest guy in the lab: "I am not," he barks at animal-loving vet Sarah Kennedy (Kim Dickens), "running a god---- zoo." And once he's invisible, like Isabelle the gorilla, he gives in completely to his dark side, though Isabelle has the good taste not to play Peeping Tom, grope co-workers and worse.
     "Hollow Man's" special-effects budget went largely to a much more detailed look at the invisibility process than we've enjoyed to date. First the flesh goes, then the muscles, then the organs, then the blood vessels and finally the skeleton. It's a neat trick, but more off-putting than exciting to observe.
     And, as noted, once Caine is invisible, "Hollow" can't figure out anything involving for him to do. Plot constraints keep the scientist in the lab, and a lot of that time is spent encased in a latex mask, so he isn't really invisible at all.
     Verhoeven tries to rouse the audience from the effects of all this tedium with a murderous, gory finale, but it is more a deadening experience than anything else. The film's only horrifying moment is its first, when a lab rat is grabbed and squashed by an invisible hand, which then drips blood onto a barely visible skeletal jaw. Unpleasant though that image is, it at least gets your attention, which is more than you can say for anything that follows.

Hollow Man, 2000. R, for strong violence, language and some sexuality/nudity. Columbia Pictures presents a Douglas Wick production, released by Sony Pictures Entertainment. Director Paul Verhoeven. Producers Douglas Wick, Alan Marshall. Screenplay Andrew W. Marlowe. Story Gary Scott Thompson and Andrew W. Marlowe. Cinematographer Jost Vacano. Editor Mark Goldblatt. Costumes Ellen Mirojnick. Music Jerry Goldsmith. Production design Allan Cameron. Art director Dale Allan Pelton. Set decorator John M. Dwyer. Running time: 1 hour, 54 minutes. Kevin Bacon as Sebastian Caine. Elisabeth Shue as Linda McKay. Josh Brolin as Matthew Kensington. Kim Dickens as Sarah Kennedy.

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