A lab rat is dropped into a cage. It runs around for a minute or so, only to be mysteriously picked up by something we cannot see. A few seconds later, the upper half of the animal is violently ripped into pieces, with its insides graphically on display for the viewer to see.
Welcome to Paul Verhoeven country, where the viewer’s new journey into the Dutch director’s cold, misogynistic mind comes in the form of Hollow Man, a film that offers great visual effects and virtually no entertainment value whatsoever. Kevin Bacon tries hard to have fun, but a stinker of a script, among other things, stunts his efforts.
Bacon plays Sebastian Caine, a brilliant scientist that moonlights as an arrogant, jealous jackass (aren’t all scientists in Hollywood films?). He, along with his support team, which includes his ex-love Linda (Elisabeth Shue) and old colleague (and current lover of Linda) Matthew (Josh Brolin), has been trying to work on a serum that will render humans invisible. So far, the serum has worked on animals, most notably on a gorilla named Isabelle. Isabelle has been made both invisible and brought back to visibility thanks to the serums that Caine has created. With this success, Sebastian, Linda and Matt head to the Pentagon (who funded the experiment) to report their news.
But, showing his possessive and haughty colors, Sebastian says that the experiment is far from being finished and that they need more time. The Pentagon’s supervising military doctor (William Devane) isn’t too keen on this news. Linda and Matt are downright pissed off. Outside, Sebastian reveals that he believes that if the military gets a hold of the project now, they will be left out and won’t be able to take the project to (cue dramatic scientific music) “Phase Three”, in which a human being will be rendered invisible. The lab rat for that experiment? Why Dr. Caine of course.
He straps himself in, shoots himself up with the serum and ta-da! He is invisible! A little time goes by and all seems to be okay with the doc in terms of normal body functions. But, when it comes time to make him visible again, the serum fails and he is stuck in the land of the invisible (as well as inside the lab). Days turn into weeks and Caine slowly begins to lose it upstairs, part cabin fever, and part plot motivation. When he discovers that Linda and Matt are sleeping together, he goes on a rampage that serves as the film’s third act.
If you’re saying, “Is that it?” in terms of Andrew Marlowe’s screenplay (apparently, this is the hack responsible for End Of Days as well), then you are right on target as to one half of the problem that plagues the film. The setup, complete with moral and scientific possibilities, shows promise. Yet, once Caine becomes invisible and can’t make the return trip, the world of opportunities presented to the filmmakers here are never used. An example of wasted opportunity: When Caine manages to sneak out of the scientific complex and go out into the world, does he have mischievous fun with people? Does he exploit the newfound freedom that invisibility brings him? No. What is the one thing he does do? Rape a beautiful neighbor he has been spying on for quite some time. Nice. The concluding rampage is nothing more than a drawn-out Friday The 13th segment in which the secondary cast members are picked off one by one, leaving only Shue and Brolin’s characters to fight off Bacon’s invisible psycho, one who goes through the “He’s dead! No wait, he’s not!” syndrome.
I have made complaints this summer about how such directors like Roland Emmerich (The Patriot) and Wolfgang Petersen (The Perfect Storm) had as much subtlety in their helming style as a jackhammer would to the back of your head. Well kids, Paul Verhoeven makes their work seem laid-back compared to his style. Violence in Verhoeven’s work is both frequent and graphic, so much so that even hardened gore hounds tend to squirm at some of his stuff. That would be fine if it fits into the story (Robocop), but most of the time it seems to be put in there just to pad out the running time of the film, like it is here.
Another off-putting matter: the trademark Verhoeven mean streak. There isn’t a single character that is likeable in this film. I suppose that Elisabeth Shue’s Linda may be the most amiable, but even she isn’t above leaving a fellow colleague to face his death. It really is hard to buy into a film when you have no one to cheer for. Everything has a glum, cold feel to it (not helped too much by cinematographer Jost Vacano’s lensing). Verhoeven offers vicious acts (like Bacon’s character killing a dog) as nothing more than shock value, which begin to take their toll on the viewer after a while. Someone should do two things with this guy: 1) have him see a therapist and 2) explain to him the definition of “entertainment”.
As for the cast, there is only so much they can do under the steel hand of Verhoeven. Bacon, who gets bonus points for enduring all of that makeup for the role, has some fun with his role, but that can only go so far when you have such a stinker of a screenplay. Someone really should pass a law that would stop Elisabeth Shue from playing scientists (remember her wonderful turn in The Saint? Didn’t think so.). Her delivery of dialogue, both scientific and non, is god awful. Josh Brolin is no better, proving that his looks are what get him gigs, not his acting.
Yet, if there is an area a Paul Verhoeven film can deliver, it is in the visual effects department. While everything else makes Hollow Man a chore to sit through, the special effects are nothing short of completely believable and astounding. Even if you know how they did most of the effects, you will still be amazed when you see them. Oscar-worthy stuff in a film that is the complete antithesis of quality filmmaking. They make Hollow Man a film worthy of a video rental, not a full-priced movie ticket.