There was a time when Paul Verhoeven was one of the smartest, most ultra-violent big-budget directors in Hollywood, famed for his satirical dryness and A-grade squib work he was also able to inject morality tales and human warmth into what initially appeared as trashy actioners but, on second glance were humorous societal statements. Then throughout the 90s he slowly chipped away at his career in America with paperweight pap like Basic Instinct and Showgirls and unfortunately the vastly misunderstood Starship Troopers (which would’ve been better appreciated had he made it five years earlier) and then in 2000 he booked his ticket back to Holland with the film that hammered the final nail into his overseas jaunt, Hollow Man.
Verhoeven’s most accessible successes are his science-fiction offerings, namely RoboCop and Total Recall and it’s with these main characters, Murphy and Quaid that he immerses their minds into pure science both physically and psychologically. Murphy is reborn as a ‘product’ but glitches similarly to a duff microwave or a faulty television and Quaid’s whole persona is forcibly changed by manufactured memory implants. In both of these instances the more detrimental impact is felt by proxy as the conglomerates come crashing down around the protagonists who both seem to benefit from their respective rewiring. Verhoeven attempts a subverted revisit of these tropes in Hollow Man by having science create a monster rather than an anti-hero.
Hollow Man stars one of Hollywood’s most travelled journeymen Kevin Bacon as brilliant but sleazy scientist Sebastian Caine who creates a serum to turn people invisible then, in typical mad-professor like behaviour, disregards his superior’s orders and participates in his own experiment absent of thought for consequence. As inevitably ill-fated as John Candy’s heart attack, this recklessness causes Caine to, at first catch a dose of cabin-fever, then with this malady warping his mind he eventually succumbs to insanity and believes his is a higher power.
Kevin’s performance is less bacon and more processed ham (sorry) as he sneers his way around the lab cracking rubbish chauvinistic jokes and leering at the female characters like he’s performing some kind of quasi-genius Rik Mayall impression. The support cast include an incredibly 90s Elisabeth Shue, Joanie Stubbs from Deadwood and Josh Brolin before anyone knew who Josh Brolin was and is rounded off by some unknowns as cannon fodder. None of the players actually try or even feign effort but then, with a script this weak it’s easy to understand why, Andrew W. Marlowe had previously written star vehicles for Harrison Ford and Arnold Schwarzenegger with Air Force One and End of Days respectively so you can see that this isn’t exactly going to be as relevant as Verhoeven’s previous sci-fi output.
The idea of an invisible man has always been an interesting one but after initially posing morally ambiguous questions (does being invisible elevate ones position over humanity as the next step in evolution and if so do regular human emotions matter?) Hollow Man rapidly degenerates into generic stalk-and-slash horror fare including conventional plot-devices like the predictable order of cast demise and the antagonist making comeback after comeback. This last point becomes wincingly frustrating as, after knocking Bacon to the floor or unconscious the other characters just leave him and slowly walk away filling the time with unnecessary, porous dialogue until he resumes his attack and this happens at least three times in quick succession. However by this juncture Bacon’s he’s-behind-you pantomimery and the many gaping plot-holes have long since eschewed any credibility this film may have claimed to have had.
For the most part Hollow Man feels and sounds like a TV movie. The camerawork is occasionally interesting, the special effects garnered an Oscar nomination and the gore is gratuitously good as expected but the bland, generic performances and the vapid, unquotable, cliché ridden screenplay reduce it to an instantly forgettable and wholly boring affair, in the process wasting a highly skilled director whose talents fit the subject matter as snug as a pink rubber glove would a transparent hand. For a far more enjoyable take on invisible person cinema you’re better off checking out John Carpenter’s charming Memoirs of an Invisible Man where the cast are better utilised and the underlying moral themes better handled.
– Greg Foster