Hollow Man

on August 04, 2000 by Annlee Ellingson
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While Paul Verhoeven's last couple of films--"Starship Troopers" and "Showgirls"--may have survived bad reviews by marketing themselves to a certain extent as camp, especially in ancillary markets such as home video, "Hollow Man" will have a harder time pulling that off. Ludicrous dialogue becomes even sillier when uttered by semi-marquee names, and in a plot that could/should have been a psychological thriller, gore, more often than not, is substituted for drama.

   Scientist Sebastian Cane (Kevin Bacon) and his colleagues, Linda Foster (Elisabeth Shue) and Matt Kensington (Josh Brolin), have not only discovered the formula for invisibility, they have finally figured out how to reverse the process. But when the three of them appear before the Pentagon, which is funding their research, Sebastian lies, claiming that while there is no antidote, they are very, very close to uncovering it. His reasoning is that he wants to take the experiment to the next level by testing it on himself, which he knows the military financiers will never approve.

   Three days after disappearing into thin air, Sebastian is horrified to find that his reversal serum doesn't work on him, and he's forced to continue to haunt the underground lab while his colleagues work day and night researching the problem. Meanwhile, Sebastian, who already had somewhat of a God complex, is feeling the effects of his condition, which has been known to cause increasingly aggressive behavior in test animals, and his confinement. He begins to wander out into the world occasionally, against his colleagues' wishes, and discovers that his ex Linda and Matt are having a secret affair, further fueling his aggression. Eventually, the couple decides to turn him in to the Pentagon, a move that would threaten all their careers, and Sebastian stops at nothing to prevent that from happening.

   First of all, it must be noted that the special effects here are awesome. During Sebastian's conversion, he disappears from the outside in, at one point revealing his beating heart. The reversion process is even more thrilling, as the serum spreads through an invisible circulatory system before the organs, then bones, then muscles, then skin reappear. Likewise, it's clear that Bacon is present even in the scenes in which he's invisible. His form becomes clear when he's doused with water, fire extinguisher powder or even blood.

   However, special effects are supposed to enhance a good story and good performances, both of which "Hollow Man" lacks. Shue does little more than flounce around in her blonde bob, forced to deliver lines such as "We are gonna take him down" and "You're losing blood, but he didn't hit any organs" after the most superficial examination of her suffering beau. And when Bacon describes what it feels like as the invisibility serum works its way through his body, either his delivery or the lines themselves (probably a combination of both) are so unconvincing that at first it seems that the transformation isn't working at all, and the character's playing a practical joke.

   But more than that, the story is all wrong. The funniest part of the movie is when Sebastian first emerges from the lab and drives his fancy sports car home in a latex mask and gloves. (Sunglasses hide his empty eye sockets, and he tries to keep his mouth closed.) While at a stoplight, the kids in the next car begin to make fun of him, pointing at him and jeering that he looks funny. Sebastian whips off his shades and opens his mouth wide, scaring the bejeezus out of them, naturally, before flooring it and pulling yet another disappearing act.

   The point of being invisible is being out in the real world--spying on your friends and neighbors, throwing stuff around, scaring little kids--just generally causing chaos and confusion. Sebastian does this, but only minimally. The majority of the action takes place in the lab, where everybody knows he's there and what he's capable of, so instead of edge-of-your-seat suspense, the action becomes a who's-going-to-get-sliced-and-diced-next gore fest. Starring Elisabeth Shue, Kevin Bacon and Josh Brolin. Directed by Paul Verhoeven. Written by Andrew W. Marlowe. Produced by Douglas Wick and Alan Marshall. A Columbia release. Sci-fi thriller. R for strong violence, language and some sexuality/nudity. Running time: 114 min

Tags: Paul Verhoeven, invisible man, science, special-effects, horror, Kevin Bacon, Elisabeth Shue, Kim Dickens, Josh Brolin
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