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
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:
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.
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.
Mary Jo Randle
Andrew W. Marlowe
Andrew W. Marlowe
Gary Scott Thompson