Hollow Man follows in the fine tradition of James Whale's 1933 version of The Invisible Man, in which Claude Rains loses his mind and goes on a murderous rampage. There is, however, a more realistic element to Paul Verhoeven's contemporary version of the tale: This invisible man tests his power by going around feeling up women. We understand this instinctively to be realistic because it's in the DNA of every heterosexual adolescent male to define invisibility as the power to walk into the girls' locker room with impunity. Hell yes we'd engage in a little mischief if no one could see us; even the best of us might find it hard to resist the temptation. Power corrupts, and so on and so forth.
Hollow Man could have been a provocative examination of what that temptation would do to one of the best of us. Instead, its invisible man is Dr. Sebastian Caine (Kevin Bacon), an egomaniacal jerk heading a government research project into rendering people invisible, a process that proves much easier than rendering them visible again. After a breakthrough leads to the apparent discovery of a method for reversing the process on test animals, Caine decides to test the invisibility serum on himself, against the protests of his colleagues Linda McKay (Elisabeth Shue) and Matthew Kensington (Josh Brolin). The invisibility serum works on Caine, but the reversal serum is not so successful, stranding Caine in his invisible state. And Caine begins to discover that he kinda likes the freedom it grants him to do virtually anything.
A bunch of techno-babble sets up the notion that the subjects of Caine's serum are "out of phase with the visible universe" blah blah blah, and disappear from the outside in, one layer at a time. And make no mistake about it, it's one heck of a nifty visual trick (actually introduced in reverse when a test ape gradually turns from skeleton into layers of musculature). In fact, Hollow Man is awash in nifty visual tricks cleverly implemented: the thermal view of a full frontal Bacon; a scene of Caine vomiting up invisible food in silent answer to that age-old question; Bacon's ghostly visage appearing in water, smoke and a tossed bag of blood. As effects-heavy thrillers go, this one at least makes every moment of technological gee-whizzery genuinely worth a gee-whiz.
What it lacks, in essence, is anything that can be called a story. There's a vacant spot in the center of the film even before Caine vanishes, because there's nothing remotely sympathetic about him from the outset. While we can still see him, he's an obnoxious sort who makes off-color jokes and mocks the vivisection of his lab animals. Once we can't see him, he's the same guy, only now with the ability to render his obnoxiousness more directly on others. There's no character arc to Sebastian Caine; Hollow Man merely presents the fairly self-evident answer to the question, "What would happen if you granted omnipotence to a cruel, self-absorbed jerk with a God complex?" The script doesn't even give a character arc to its ostensible protagonist, Shue's Dr. McKay. Perhaps she could have been tempted, or learned something about scientific hubris. But no one learns anything in Hollow Man, except to stay out of the way of an invisible sociopath. Ultimately, it's nothing but a technically proficient mad slasher movie.
Make that a fairly diverting, technically proficient mad slasher movie, at least during its high-energy third act. Hollow Man is giddily gruesome from the outset -- engineered by Verhoeven, the king of giddy gruesomeness -- but it really goes wild once Caine traps his research team in their underground facility. The film turns from a gloss on Cronenberg's The Fly to a gloss on both Alien and Aliens (and perhaps even Westworld, with Josh Brolin following in Papa James' footsteps in a cat-and-mouse game involving thermal perception). The fin
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