Saturday, October 02, 2010

31 DAYS OF FRIGHT: Now You See Him, Now You Don't

I'm always up for a good reimagining of a classic monster.

Having grown up on the Universal Monsters of the 30s – first in the Abbott & Costello flicks and later in their standalone efforts – I was delighted when I discovered Hammer's groovier, sexier approach to Dracula courtesy of Doctor Shock and his Saturday afternoon 'Creature Double Feature'.

In the 80s cable and VHS gave me such fresh takes as HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP (oversexed versions of the Creature from the Black Lagoon), THE HOWLING and AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (the Wolfman, obviously), and even a few twists on the Frankenstein tale like THE VINDICATOR and ROBO-COP.

One classic monster that nobody seems to be able to get right via modern storytelling is The Invisible Man. The usually reliable John Carpenter bungled the job with the schizo MEMOIRS OF AN INVISIBLE MAN while ROBO-COP director Paul Verhoven gave it a shot with HOLLOW MAN, a vapid, sometimes unseemly, cliche affair that unfortunately lives up to its ironic title.

Kevin Bacon stars as Sebastian Caine, a research scientist working on a government-funded program to render animals – and eventually people – invisible, and then make them, um, not invisible. As the film opens, the driven Caine has broken the barrier and discovers the formula for making a currently invisible subject, um, visible again.

Of course, we know he's driven because he's up late while the other researchers – namely Elizabeth Shue as Linda, his perky former lover and Josh Brolin as Matt, her current beau – are enjoying some post-coital sleep. Man, these must be some well-paid researchers – they all drive Porsches and Benzes and live in snazzy apartments in some of DC's tonier 'hoods.

Unfortunately, this is about as much character development as HOLLOW MAN gives us. We get some additional peeks at Sebastian's obvious drive (people call him "genius," he refers to himself as "God," and he spends an inordinate amount of time looking at tail when he should be doing other things), but the storyline is really there to serve one purpose and one purpose only: get us to the cool special effects sequences that were the (deserved) highlights of the trailers.

From here the flick follows a paint-by-numbers trail that won't surprise anybody that has seen more than a half-dozen mad scientist flicks: genius makes breakthrough, decides to further experiments by testing the serum on himself, madness and wacky hijinks ensue. And that would've been all fine, well and good had Verhoven kept the thing going on the thriller course and not let it veer so wildly off-track.

I'm more than willing to ignore plot holes that you can drive a truck through and I'm more than willing to accept a flick that establishes certain outlandish rules, but you have to play by them. Two of Verhoven's earlier films – ROBO-COP and SHOWGIRLS – are classics that I can watch over and over again, without pausing to question character motive. But, like in SHOWGIRLS, Verhoven lets a nasty side creep into the flick that isn't really necessary.

To its detriment, HOLLOW MAN turns into THE EROTIC ADVENTURES OF HOLLOW MAN a bit too quickly and conveniently for my taste. Yes, the Sebastian Caine we meet pre-invisibility is a cocky, egotistical asshole, but he doesn't seem like the kind of guy that would be capable of rape, assault, and murder. And, since the film never suggests that the formula increases aggression or strength it's a little hard to buy into his almost-automatic slip into homicidal pervert!

Were that all that was wrong with HOLLOW MAN maybe I could give it a grudging recommendation. Too bad the idea of it even being high-brow escapism gets tossed out the window during the last 40 minutes as it sinks even further into the morass and becomes nothing more than a Z-grade slasher flick with name stars. Okay, well, Kevin Bacon and Elizabeth Shue. And William Devane used to have a career!

The flick's "exciting conclusion" is a mind-numbing hodgepodge of clichés that Sean Cunningham, Tom Holland and Steve Miner would be embarrassed to trot out. Watch as Sebastian gets clobbered with a crowbar! See Elizabeth Shue torch his invisible ass with an industrial-strength flamethrower! Marvel as he continues to fight on despite being shocked silly by a buttload of power cables!

It's too bad this effects-laden but empty-headed "hi-tech thriller" couldn't deliver on the promise of its trailers and given The Invisible Man mythos a worthy rebirth. And though I doubt HOLLOW MAN II – with Christian Slater as an invisible government assassin who has, wait for it, "gone rogue" – is any more effective you can bet your booty that I just added it to my Netflix Instant View queue.

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