[Written for Film.com]
If Hollow Man doesn’t dive anywhere near the implications of its T.S. Eliot–inspired title, settling for the form and function of a summer movie, it nevertheless offers something extra. That extra is the edge provided by director Paul Verhoeven, the perverse Dutch master who brings his cruel, nasty personality to the party. Despite Showgirls, Verhoeven is a distinctive talent—sometimes incoherent, but often bracing.
Verhoeven’s fondness for tearing flesh and ogling breasts is on display in Hollow Man; few directors have such a physical sense of the body, or such an eagerness to abuse the human animal. The concept of the picture retains H.G. Wells’s fantasy of turning invisible, which already led to inspired mad cackling from Claude Rains in the 1933 movie version of the story. Here, it’s genius Sebastian Caine (Kevin Bacon, fried from the start) succumbing to the temptation of invisibility; he runs amok as the members of his secret project (mainly Elisabeth Shue and Josh Brolin) try to contain him.
Because this is a Verhoeven movie, the first thing Caine does with his invisibility is slip into the control room and snake his see-through hand inside the blouse of a co-worker (Kim Dickens). Yes, yes, the Nobel Prize would be very nice, but consider the possibilities for spying on naked chicks! As Caine gets madder—and, considering his godlike swagger in the opening scenes, he wasn’t too stable to begin with—he delves into rape and murder, as well. Curiously, just as the movie is opening this ugly can of worms, it shifts into its generic final section, in which Caine chases his research team around their underground laboratory, thus leading up to the usual explosions and hairbreadth escapes.
I wonder if the special effects dictated the storyline. For instance, was it technically too complicated to shoot the invisible Caine out in the real world? Is that why so much of the movie, and the entire finale, is set inside the dour bunker? And does Caine get a form-fitting rubber mask because of the difficulty of shooting an invisible man? There’s no other good reason for his wearing a stifling headdress, really. That said, the FX work is pretty amazing, with a special emphasis on the process of bodies (gorilla and human) vanishing and reappearing, organ by organ—a process made unsettling by Verhoeven’s violent approach.
Did the cost of this brilliant effects work price the movie out of a top-drawer cast? A nice actress like Elisabeth Shue doesn’t seem to fit Verhoeven’s dark world, and Brolin provides no threat. Kevin Bacon has played a few too many of these smiling vipers to really surprise us, so that element of his transformation doesn’t quite stick.
As Hollow Man scrambles toward its conclusion, the dialogue founders and logic retreats. Yet even during these stretches, Verhoeven makes his presence felt, in the crazy way Shue uses the blood-covered floor to aid her sliding movement, or the casual detail of an out-of-control elevator ripping out a hunk of shoulder. You get the feeling Verhoeven enjoys this sort of thing a little too much, in fact. Still, as movies become blander, one wonders if the only original directors left are the obsessives and the freaks. This guy qualifies on both counts.