Ham-fisted, effects-heavy invisible man redeaux never even scary
As a movie critic, nothing is more frustrating than watching a film like "Hollow Man," a film ripe with potential that succumbs completely to trite and tepid Hollywood convention.
A slick, initially disquieting but ultimately silly update of the invisible man scenario, re-envisioned for a CGI world, "Hollow Man" stars Kevin Bacon as a mad scientist for the new millennium -- an egoist with an aggressive sex drive, few ethics and a burgeoning God complex that stems from his groundbreaking successes in DNA manipulation.
Having already cracked the mystery of invisibility with experiments on dogs and apes, Bacon opens the picture in his top secret, super-hero-style underground lab as he and his team of researchers struggle with perfecting a formula designed to bring test subjects back from transparency.
In a showcase of computer effects, they tie an invisible gorilla to an operating table, inject it with a blue liquid and watch as it's restored from the inside out, with textbook-detailed veins, organs bones and muscle coming into view slowly before the skin and hair reemerge.
The animal almost dies in the process, but Dr. Kevin's ego is now running rampant. He chucks scientific process aside and decides inoculate himself with the invisibility goop -- without any additional testing, without informing his Pentagon employers and over the objections of his sexy brainiac staff.
But when attempts to bring him back to opaqueness fail his condition begins to effect his mind. His borderline-maniacal personality loses the "borderline" part. He goes from just toying with his fellow scientists for his own amusement to coping cheap feels on female colleagues to escaping into the outside world with far worse misdeeds on the mind.
"It's amazing what you can do when you don't have to look at yourself in the mirror anymore," he hisses ominously.
So far, so good. But because the movie is directed by Paul Verhoeven ("Showgirls," "Starship Troopers"), just about every cinematic, dramatic and narrative element gets amped up to the point of laughability.
Undermined by a ridiculously lascivious atmosphere (off-duty lab hotties vamp around in tops with only one button closed between their breasts), the movie quickly degrades into nothing but a killer-on-the-loose slasher flick with expensive -- and yet completely obvious -- special effects. Our see-through psychopath is forever being bathed in various gases (cigar smoke, steam, fire extinguisher discharge) and liquids (water, blood) to make him partially visible when he attacks, picking off bottom-billed stars one-by-one because they're not bright enough to wear their infrared goggles that allow them see his heat signature.
Meanwhile Elisabeth Shue -- badly miscast (again) as a slinky scientist (didn't Verhoeven see "The Saint"?) -- escapes repeatedly with the aid of all-too-convenient props (duct tape and a heart defibrillator in a walk-in refrigerator?).
But she's no genius either. Three different times she knocks invisible Bacon down and leaves him for dead, only to have him come back for more. Come on, Verhoeven. You can do better than that.
Bacon does a fine job of establishing his character as an overbearing, unscrupulous and more than a little menacing fellow who makes his staff understandably skittish at the thought of giving him a power like invisibility. They didn't trust him when they could watch his every move, so now they're downright scared of him.
But short of being adequately creepy, Bacon's performance is just as ham-fisted as the rest of the cast, who are forced to play the extraneous subplots about sexual jealousy as if "Hollow Man" were some Lifetime Network stalker-of-the-week movie retooled for the SciFi Channel.
But the biggest problem with "Hollow Man" is that its never even scary. There's too much gimmick, too many unintentional laughs and too many yawning logical abysses (scientifically and structurally) to maintain any real suspense.
By the time "Hollow Man" was half over, I wished I could have disappeared, too.