Hollow Man



US 2000
dir. Paul Verhoeven
scr. Andrew W Marlowe (story Marlowe, Gary Scott Thompson)
cin. Jost Vacano
stars Kevin Bacon, Elisabeth Shue, Josh Brolin
113 minutes

Hollow Man is a competent, pedestrian horror thriller with startling special effects: passable enough entertainment but, from the man responsible for such smashing pictures as RoboCop, Total Recall and Starship Troopers, a major disappointment.

I kept looking for Verhoeven’s customary sly touches of intelligence and irony, but in vain. He’s clearly heavily dependent on script, and can’t be blamed for failing to be fully energised by Andrew Marlowe’s uninspired work in that department. This is standard invisibility fare with a psycho-slasher twist, no better and no worse than John Carpenter’s 1992 upbeat Memoirs Of An Invisible Man, another so-so, autopilot movie from a director capable of much greater things.

Kevin Bacon hams it up as asshole mad scientist Sebastian Caine, leader of a top-secret team (Shue, Brolin, etc) developing invisibility techniques for the Pentagon. In the time-honoured tradition of Jeff Goldblum in The Fly, the arrogant Bacon tests a new procedure on himself, with initially impressive results. He disappears layer by layer, from skin down to bone, just as, shortly before, a huge gorilla had completed the reverse journey – these are astonishing FX sequences, easily the best thing in the movie.

Main plot kicks in when the team find they can’t bring Bacon ‘back’ to normality – and the longer he spends invisible, the crazier he becomes, rapidly moving from mild sexual harassment to unseen, but heavily implied rape, to a full-bore kill-crazy rampage. With only a couple of exceptions, action is confined to a large underground lab, and to the small band of technicians who are hunted down by Bacon, who is determined to escape into the world outside and wreak untold havoc.

Claustrophobic but increasingly predictable results are heavily reminiscent of the Alien movies, with Shue unconvincingly taking on Ripleyish attributes to save the day. In fact, almost every incident and shot from Hollow Man seems to be lifted from an Alien prototype, to the point that it’s possible to read the movie as one long, pointless in-joke from beginning to end.

Possible, but too charitable. Verhoeven has spoken in interviews of how he aims to explore ideas expressed in Plato’s Republic, but Hollow Man is about as intellectual, and says as much about psychology and the classics as the Coens’ pseudo-Homeric O Brother, Where Art Thou? I’m sure the fiery, egotistical director sees a lot of himself in Sebastian Caine – and the giveaway comes when a colleague asks the scientist for some famous last words before he undergoes the risky procedure. “Just pretend I said something clever and deep,” is the reply.

For an interview with director Paul Verhoeven click here