There is a shot early in Hollow Man when Drs. Sebastian Caine (Kevin Bacon) and Linda McKay (Elisabeth Shue) are at a fancy-pants restaurant discussing their burned-out love while the U.S. Capital hovers in the background. They are in Washington D.C. because they are heading up a super-secret government project in the attempt to create an Invisible Man. Inevitably they DO create an Invisible Man and, indeed, the Invisible Man is Sebastian Caine himself and, well, here’s the thing: you’re in Washington D.C.! Congress and lobbyists and comely interns and possible foreign dignitaries and the President and tourists – my God, the tourists! – and so on and so forth and so why – why?! – when Caine, as he must, goes rogue while invisible does the film choose to merely re-serve the same items from the menu we get time and time again when there are so many enticing possibilities of supernatural insanity?
One of my favorite movie-watching experiences of recent years occurred, of all places, at one of my favorite neighborhood bars where one Saturday night the sassy, nose-ringed bartendress – without much prodding from my two friends and I, I might add – chose to put Showgirls on the TV at the end of the bar where we were sitting. And, thus, the four of us (the bartendress was still serving others, of course, but she still managed to spend a good deal of time down there by the TV with us) sat in a most decidedly public place watching Showgirls. (If I recall, someone at some point asked the bartendress to turn it off because he or she was getting offended and/or uncomfortable, but that might have been the whiskey causing me to mis-remember.) I only mention this because for all its excess and awfulness, Showgirls is still rip-roaring, sufficient for laughs and cries of “That did NOT just happen!” And if Showgirls mastermind, Paul Verhoeven, decides to put his own spin on H.G. Wells’ famed story over 100 years later, well, one can’t help but hope for a deviously craptacular opera.
Kevin Bacon, at least, brings his Elizabeth Berkley-esque A game. He’s not in mad scientist mode so much as he is in subtly psychotic scientist mode. Consider the walk and talk scene where he tells a bawdy joke about Superman, Wonder Woman and an Invisible Man – it’s not the joke so much as it is the fact he’s telling the joke in the moments before he is about to be TURNED INVISIBLE. If this is what you choose to do in the moments before you “shift out of quantum sync with the visible universe”, well, you’re probably not completely right in the head. Yet he SEEMS right enough that it seems plausible that he could convince his colleagues, Linda and her new boyfriend Dr. Matt Kensington (Josh Brolin), to hide from the government and Dr. Kramer (William Devane) the fact they can not only turn their test subject invisible via the magical blue serum but that they can also reverse the process. If the government knows, Sebastian probably won’t get to be the first Invisible Man. And he wants to be first.
But once Sebastian goes to “never never land” the film turns frustratingly routine. Verhoeven is so often subversive in his films but passages meant to be subversive – like Sebastian’s stalking of a striking neighbor lady – is just grotesque and there is virtually no exploration of the psychological depths. He becomes invisible, they can’t reverse the process, and within about 17 seconds he’s gone cuckoo. He uses ghostly prowess to determine that Linda and Matt are sleeping together (if they know Sebastian is out and about and cloaked shouldn’t they at least – I don’t know – draw the freaking shades?) and, thus, Andrew W. Marlowe’s dishwatery screenplay resorts to the Love Triangle to set him off. Then Hollow Man morphs into a forty-seventh rate Alien as Sebastian locks his colleagues in their remote underground laboratory and goes after them one by one and there is a lot of blood and a lot of shouting and tranquilizer darts and then at some I opened up my laptop to check my email.
Summer movies need to be more than ideas. Right? The idea of The Invisible Man as directed by Paul Verhoeven sounds really intriguing. The idea of The Invisible Man as directed by a Paul Verhoeven given $95 million to make it should have been can’t-miss. It missed. Badly. And it missed because story and character and originality and entertainment value were all ignored. Summer movies need to be more than an idea, a director and a lotta money.