Hollow Man
review by KJ Doughton, 4 August 2000

Paul Verhoevenís Hollow Man is so bad, its cast and crew might consider making themselves invisible when the opening-day reviews are fired from criticsí cruel pens. The one-liners are sure to be fast and furious: "I wish Hollow Man would disappear," one disgruntled scribe will complain about this lame invisible-man-goes-bad turkey. "Itís a hollow movie," another will surely write, before zeroing in on such obvious targets as a stillborn script and career-low acting by its slumming cast. However, Hollow Manís worst sin is its reluctance to take risks. And for a Paul Verhoeven film to have cold feet is a sin, indeed.

The Dutch director has failed before, with such lurid, glossy duds as Starship Troopers and Showgirls. The former showcased some of the most spectacular sets and post-Star Wars special effects ever designed, and put them at the service of a story concerningÖ intergalactic bug warfare. The latter took on Golden Turkey infamy as one of the worst films of all time, with its Joe Esterhaus-penned script boasting the most unintentionally hilarious dialogue this side of Plan Nine From Outer Space. Yet, in both cases, these movies were spectacular failures. Neither was boring: instead, they splattered the screen with enough wild-ass, garish excess that one couldnít possibly look away. Meanwhile, when this Dutch director hits a bullís-eye, as with the 1987 action classic RoboCop, his lurid, unflinching sensibilities make the routine seem exotic and unsettling.

With Hollow Man, Verhoevenís penchant for going to extremes is replaced by a neutered, paint-by-numbers approach that is purely by the book. Letís sit back and play "count the clichťs" game as I quote from the Columbia Pictures press release: The film is set in a "top secret military lab". A group of "brilliant young scientists" have discovered the secret of invisibility. The groupís leader is "arrogant". He "ignores the risks" and attempts to test the invisibility procedure on himself. After his comrades are unable to reverse the effect, the leaderís "intoxication with his newfound power is growing, and heís come to believe his colleagues may be a threat to his very existence."

So there you have it. Thatís Hollow Man in a nutshell. Scientist goes crazy. No surprises, no twists, nothing more than this bare-bones outline with some admittedly cool special effects thrown in.

Kevin Bacon plays Sebastian Caine, Hollow Manís mastermind scientist whose invisibility research on dogs, rats, and apes has claimed the lives of more furry critters than a Ted Nugent safari. His faceless crew consists of ex-flame Linda Foster (Elisabeth Shue); Matt Kensington (Josh Brolin), Fosterís new romantic interest; and Sarah (Kim Dickens), whose concern for the labís experimental animals is at odds with Caineís "end-justifies-the-means" approach. There are also a couple of completely expendable techno-experts thrown in: they inhabit an elevated control station and holler scientific jargon back and forth in an effort to make these superficial stiffs seem more credible as genius-level professionals.

On the drab, metallic experimentation station below them, Caine straps a sedated gorilla onto a steel table, and pumps colorful fluids into the animalís veins. But thereís something perversely wrong here. The ape, you see, is invisible. Caineís attempts to "crack reversion" with his potion, and successfully re-organize the bodyís structure in a way that makes the holding cell invisible, have succeeded. Unfortunately, past attempts to bring such animals back from transparency have resulted in agonizing death for the unknowing candidates. This time around, however, things look promising. In the filmís best scene, one sees the injected fluid fill the gorillaís veins, enter its heart, and push out to peripheral arteries. Then, the apeís skeletal structure peeks out from beneath fast-forming muscles and vital organs. Layer by layer, flesh and fur materialize until this impressive beast is completely intact. Itís a brilliant example of new millenium special effects that transcends earlier examples of body-morphing included in Altered States, The Fly, The Thing, and Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

Soon enough, Caine is itching to try the invisibility serum on himself, and lies to his boss at the Pentagon, Dr. Kramer (William Devane, recently resurrected from obscurity and popping up everywhere as a character actor), about his need for additional time to perfect the process. Caine, the ultimate anal-retentive, fears that the military will take over his project without allowing him to become the procedureís first human subject. While itís entirely unlikely that this unsympathetic egomaniacís support team would go along with the deception, Foster and Kensington support their boss and his dishonest scheme.

Itís here that Hollow Man plays it safe when it should be detouring into daring directions. Caine does indeed repeat the process on himself Ė successfully. Yet, instead of exploring the lure of voyeuristic kicks that invisibility invites, Verhoeven jettisons this angle early on. When Caine sneaks into the apartment of a shapely female neighbor, the movie implies that his basest instincts take over and he assaults the woman. But the whole sequence ends abruptly, as if the filmmakers were scared to really examine the ugliness of such undisciplined power. Would a somewhat unstable man such as Caine resort to rape if given the key to invisibility? As the scene stands, weíre not sure: itís a cheap tease that makes one feel short-changed and manipulated.

Soon afterwards, however, the filmmakers have no misgivings about turning Caine into a mad slasher. When an attempt to bring Caine back to "visible mode" is unsuccessful, the unseen wacko begins snuffing out his crewmates. Devaneís military higher-up is alerted that Caine has gone around the bend, and heís drowned in a swimming pool before the word gets any further. Then, Baconís vengeful psychopath goes after his ex-girlfriend Foster and other science cronies like Jason, Freddy, or any number of generic horror villains. Hollow Man ends in a torrent of downright embarrassing mayhem, as survivors stumble upon slain comrades, spend a few seconds mournfully weeping, and are jolted back to action while mouthing such lines as, "Come on! I heard an explosion!" When Brolinís character sustains a wicked cut that would finish off an elephant, Shueís clinical brainiac reaches for a role of duct tape and slaps a piece across the gaping wound. Problem solved! The two are soon saving the world from their invisible assailant like a couple of Olympic gymnasts, leaping like gazelles into elevator shafts and surviving exploding nitroglycerin.

Hollow Man is one of the worst films to surface in years, primarily because of its complete and utter predictability. Like last yearís Deep Blue Sea, which took a high-tech premise and reduced it to familiar action-movies cliches and autopilot dialogue, Hollow Man is the latest example of a film completely dependent on its technical elements. Perhaps Verhoeven was pressured by the studio to keep things safe, convinced that the great effects sequences would be enough to guarantee an audience. But thereís no pushing the outer envelope, no personal touch. And for all of its flirtations with sex and violence, Hollow Manís impersonal soul keeps it from being truly disturbing. Once upon a time, the director of Basic Instinct was known for taking things too far. This time, he hasnít gone nearly far enough.

Directed by:
Paul Verhoeven

Starring:
Kevin Bacon
Elisabeth Shue
Josh Brolin
Greg Grunberg
Mary Jo Randle
Kim Dickens
William Devanel

Written by:
Andrew W. Marlowe

Based on a
Story by:
Andrew W. Marlowe
Gary Scott Thompson

FULL CREDITS

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