"It's amazing what you can do when you don't have to look at yourself in the mirror."
In the late eighties and early nineties, director Paul Verhoeven struck gold with a trio of indulgent schlock hits: Robocop, a brilliant satire of eighties excess and hyper-violence; Total Recall, a goofy but unrelentingly entertaining Schwarzenneger sci-fi romp that refused to take itself seriously; and Basic Instinct, an over-the-top noire-style thriller that sold itself almost exclusively on its excessive amounts of soft-core pornography. For boys like me who grew up with these movies in their early teens, Verhoeven was the kind of director who knew what we wanted and delivered it in spades. Time has been less than forgiving to Verhoeven as we've moved on to adulthood, though, and only Robocop seems to have genuinely survived the transition. I know there are some nineties kids who still love Starship Troopers, but without going over it again, let's just leave it at the fact that I am not a fan.
By the time 2000's Hollow Man came along, Verhoeven's star had lost most of its brilliance after the legendary bombing of Showgirls, a film so universally reviled it ruined the careers of just about everybody involved. Still, Columbia Pictures was willing to give the once-bankable director the reins of a film very loosely "inspired by" H.G. Wells' classic novel, The Invisible Man. Verhoeven stated in interviews that he wanted to take the film seriously, to avoid the salacious material he'd become known for, and to focus more on the horror, effects, and acting to produce something worthy of the legacy. However, if that was truly his goal, he failed in all but one respect.
Let's get this out of the way right now: Hollow Man is not a good movie. It's not even charmingly silly like Total Recall. It's based on a very poorly written script and comes across like a movie that wants to be taken seriously but lacks the talent to make it happen. The blame, as I see it, falls squarely on Verhoeven's shoulders. The actors involved are all decent, if not great, talents: Kevin Bacon has a Golden Globe award and a Screen Actors guild award to his credit, while both Elisabeth Shue and Josh Brolin have gotten Academy Award nominations for their work. Even the supporting cast is pretty good, with William Devane providing credible gravitas and Kim Dickens, Greg Grunberg, and Joey Slotnick all representing respectable character talent.
Even good actors can fall victim to bad direction
However, every single one of these actors (except maybe Grunberg) gives a lackluster performance at best, often delivering lines with entirely incorrect emphasis and/or tone while having plot-driven swings to their attitudes that don't come from any logical set of character motivations. Even Bacon's performance as this film's invisible man is pretty awful, and I happen to be an enormous fan of the actor. Therefore, I can only conclude that it was the directing, the writing, and the editing that is at fault here, not the actors. It seems terribly unlikely that so many talents would all choose to phone it in at the same time for the same movie.
Also, let's talk about the effects. For the most part, this movie has fantastic effects. Sure, some of the CG is a bit dated, but it actually holds up pretty well, even by modern standards. Put together by Tippet Studios, Amalgamated Dynamics, and Sony Imageworks--three of the best in the business at the time--this film has some of the best invisible man effects you'll ever see, including some that would be impressive in a film made today, nearly twenty years later. It's just a shame that all this incredible work is wasted on something so insipidly dull.
The effects work is absolutely awesome
Granted, despite being a wild deviation from the source material (so much so that Wells doesn't even appear in the credits), it does try to do a few things that previous adaptations had chosen not to. As in Wells' novel, the invisible man starts the story as a pretty amoral guy, and his invisibility powers only serve to corrupt him further until he becomes a homicidal maniac. However, as in the 1933 Claude Rains version, this escalation of his insanity is treated as a side effect of the drugs being used to make him invisible, which takes away from some of the more interesting aspects of Wells' core concept.
Also, I feel the need to point out that this film is obsessed almost entirely with the prurient. Bacon's invisible man, named Sebastian Caine this time around, is a pervert and deviant who uses his invisibility to oggle his coworkers and eventually commit rape. Then, in the end, he becomes little more than a slasher movie villain, with the final act playing out more like an Alien knockoff than anything resembling The Invisible Man.
Verhoeven read The Invisible Man and thought it needed a rape scene
In short, I can't in good conscience recommend Hollow Man to casual audiences, to fans of Wells' work or its earlier adaptations, or even to fans of the actors involved. You might be able to find things to like if you're only interested in the special effects or if you're an adolescent who thinks looking at boobs is the only thing you can do with invisibility. It also could be a fun rental if you just want to watch something hokey and stupid while getting drunk with friends. Otherwise, give this one a hard pass.
I did watch the direct-to-video sequel--creatively titled Hollow Man 2--but there's not a whole lot to say about it. The script is slightly better, but the budget and production values are much lower. Also, as great as Christian Slater was in the late eighties/early nineties, he's been phoning in every single performance since--when he bothers to cooperate with the production at all--and this is no exception. The one redeeming quality to the sequel is the climactic fight between two invisible men in the rain, but that's not nearly good enough to justify watching the rest of the movie. It's bad; let's just leave it at that.
-e. magill 10/17/2019
SPECIAL THANKS TO MY PATRONS: