Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Movie Review: Hollow Man

The plot of this movie can be summed up as follows:

A group of scientists working on a secret, government funded project, create a formula that renders animals invisible. Without seeking the necessary approval from the top, they advance to the final stage of their project and try the procedure with humans. They inject the lead scientist with the same serum and are successful. Now invisible, he starts killing people.

However, it is never clear why exactly he begins the slaughter of his colleagues who assisted in the research.

The invisible scientist, Sebastian Caine, is portrayed by Kevin Bacon as the typical, hard-to-be-around genius, preoccupied with more important things than being polite to people. Is this supposed to provide some reason for the audience to accept the sudden eruption of murderous rage?

A vague notion that the genetic change has brought along an unwanted side effect that sets off the violence is hinted at as well. That, or an overwhelming sense of untapped knowledge and newfound power that sends Caine off the rails. Also, Caine becomes aware of the fact that his former girlfriend who spurned him, Linda, (played by Linda Shue) and an assistant in the project, has taken up with another scientist on the team. The new boyfriend, Matt, (played by Josh Brolin), has always been a second rater to Caine in terms of scientific smarts but, like that old cliché that no doubt has some truth to it, makes up for that deficiency with better social skills.

Added together, these potential explanations don't wash.

Despite the absolutely threadbare plot and some of the relatively inexplicable actions, I still call this a movie worth watching.

First, the special effects are impressive. As with any number of movies over the years that have dealt with invisibility, the trick is always how to make it clear that the unseen individual is actually there. Here there are a number of ways utilized, including the gradual reappearance of a gorilla strapped to a gurney, and later Caine, their anatomies filling out as a reversal serum takes effect. More predictable circumstances abound where the invisible Caine is showered with water or blasted with steam or fire extinguishers and his image becomes momentarily visible, though the quality effects are still enjoyable to watch.

Secondly, the viciousness and refreshing lack of usual Hollywood sentiment are almost laugh-out-loud hilarious in an inappropriate kind of way. As mentioned, the sudden spiral into casual slaughter is a bit off in the overall context, but once it starts it is somehow entertaining. Probably not least for the oafish and annoying supporting cast did I find myself actually rooting for the suddenly psychotic Caine. If there is any doubt that the word "oaf" can apply to women, it is eviscerated here. Together with the pair of gullible blokes who are part of the research team, this collection of credulous louts are the least likely group of morons who would ever find themselves part of an elite scientific unit and their demise is welcomed.

Of course, Caine's ex-girlfriend and her new, second rate, pussy-whipped boyfriend are portrayed as Caine's nemeses and distinctly different from the other screw-ups. An inevitable final few minutes play out where things are wrapped up and the evil is vanquished.

Finally, being invisible is something that every person has pondered at some point. Inevitably, thoughts quickly turn to what deviant acts a person could partake in without any fear of being caught. Without wasting time on any monotonous deeper issues, this is the area the film quickly transitions to for a brief period following Caine's initial transformation.

Though Kevin Bacon's fiendish performance is the only one that is above average here, that he is somehow at his best when invisible and fondling the tit of one of the sleeping female scientists says it all regarding this movie. Trite dialogue and a meaningless plot are just some of the failings in a film that could have been much better but still provides an impressive display of cinematic special effects.

Released: 2000

Directed by: Paul Verhoeven