Review: “Hollow Man”

Paul Verhoeven remains one of the few great mainstream film directors of our time. Most filmmakers set out to try and make award-winning movies – kinds that induce yawning in 95% of the populous, and take the industry and the art of movie-making way too seriously. Verhoeven is one of the few left who realise that it comes down to one thing – above all else, movies must be entertaining and he’s not afraid to have a little fun and push the edge with his work.

The plots and action are kick ass and very mainstream appealing, but Verhoeven also includes a level of dark satire in there which goes over the heads of most (you have to be sort of twisted yourself to get it) but makes others laugh heartily (myself included) whether it be jabs at corporate America in “Robocop”, some cool technology & triple-breasted women of the future in “Total Recall”, or poking fun of 50’s anti-Communist propaganda in “Starship Troopers”.

Also in a time when even the hard core directors of a few years ago like John Woo are wimping out with “no sex, no blood, no swearing – no fun” PG-13 rated movies, he’s not afraid to include some good doses of nudity & gore which are always helpful.

That said his latest effort is a bit of a disappointment. On its own its an average to above-average Summer film which is pretty by the numbers and substitutes flashy FX for a lack of storytelling. There’s some clever scenes and one or two sequences you’ll probably remember but on the whole its forgettable. When people talk of the Summer of 2000 they’ll remember films like “Gladiator” and “X-Men” long before they do this one.

What makes this film better than any previous ‘invisible man’ flick before it is that the roles are reversed this time around with the experiment’s scientists the good guys and the invisible guy being the baddie. This opens up a whole new range rich for exploring but sadly the movie just scratches the surface. Of the 112 minute film, only about 10-15 minutes of it is spent outside in the real world – the rest is confined to a lab set which looks great but gets a little tiresome after a while.

Sadly what’s really lacking here is Verhoeven’s unique touch. The comedic subtext is completely gone so we’re stuck with just 3-4 one-liners, NONE of which are funny. There’s the gratuitous nudity of course which the guys will like, the famous ‘rape scene’ depicted in the trailer is pretty much non-existent thankfully – if you’ve seen the trailer then you’ve seen pretty much all of that sequence – we see the woman scream as Sebastian rushes at her, it cuts away and then…nothing, the incident is never heard or brought up again throughout the film – in fact you’re not sure what he did to the woman other than check out her tits in a mirror.

The acting is at a level that’s required for this kind of film, good but not great. Bacon plays the project’s extroverted leader with a major competitive streak and superiority complex, thus his quick turn to insanity is believable however things would’ve been far more effective had an average nice guy slowly lost their mind due to the transformation. Watching a good guy turn bad is far more compelling than watching some deadshit turn psychotic. Always liked Shue myself and liked her here too, most of the rest of the cast do what’s required with their roles though its good to see one of the better young TV actors out there (Greg Grunberg from “Felicity”) doing movies.

The action is quite good with some interesting sequences involving all sorts of elements like fire, water, extinguishers, blood, etc. It’s the FX though that most people will remember and while the famous ‘transformation’ shots are extremely impressive, its the scenes in which Bacon is fully invisible that are the best. He spends most of the movie walking around in sheets or a hollow eyed mask through and every time the effect is flawless.

Sadly the film really shows its weaknesses when it devolves into a generic corridor stalking bit in the last 30 minutes where things happen (such as Elizabeth Shue’s shoulder injury) which kind of destroy the credibility the first hour of the film carefully built. These scenes would’ve been a great chance to do something atmospheric and claustrophobic, scenes where the sound and visuals could be used to really scare the shit out of you – it doesn’t work as Jerry Goldsmith’s film score wrecks the mood at times, while the visuals get wilder and more unbelievable.

All up though this is a “might have been” film, the kind which is an OK movie as it stands but a little more patience and some more script re-writing could’ve resulted in something so much more. It may not be no ‘Storm’ or ‘X-Men’ but its better than most of the stuff in early June (ie. Gone In 60 Seconds, Big Momma’s House, etc). Worth catching if you’re a fan or like the trailer, but don’t expect too much beyond the conventional.