Will the idea of being invisible ever lose its appeal? It's been over a hundred-and-twenty years since H. G. Wells published his science-fiction classic, and the possibilities of being invisible still continue to fascinate the public. And also perverts who want to sneak into a ladies toilet without being seen.
So who better than Dutch pervert, Paul Verhoeven, to make his own version? Fresh off the success of Starship Troopers, but with the disastrous Showgirls not far behind, it was touch and go whether Hollow Man would be any good. And, well, Hollow Man isn't very good.
Kevin Bacon stars as scientist Sebastian Caine, inventor of a new invisibility serum. His team includes Elisabeth Shue, Josh Brolin, and an assortment of men and women you'll recognize from the twenty years of television that followed.
Bacon's character tests the serum on himself with some of that new fangled CGI to show him slowly turning invisible from the outside in. We see his skin disappear, revealing his muscles and internal organs. And then they vanish, leaving just his skeleton. Until finally, that too fades from view, and he's completely invisible. Impressive, even today, and Oscar nominated at the time. However, the CGI looks a little cartoony and too shiny. The technology was not quite there, and FX from this period have probably dated more than the practical FX of the preceding twenty years.
When Bacon's character can't reverse the effects of the serum (pretty much like the H. G. Wells novel), he becomes more unhinged with each passing day. But it's hard to empathise with his situation. Right from the off, before taking the serum, he's a shitty character.
I'm not saying that there isn't a small amount of enjoyment to be wrung from Bacon's performance. He's good at playing shit bags, and he's clearly having a good time in the first third of the film. But he progresses from "horrible" to "more horrible". Compare that to Verhoeven's RoboCop, another film where a human being undergoes an incredible transformation, where we have nothing but sympathy for the poor guy.
The problem comes down to Verhoeven. He's usually good at walking the fine line between bad taste and genius. But Hollow Man feels nasty and humourless. In RoboCop and Starship Troopers, he gets the tone exactly right. In Hollow Man, he somehow gets it all wrong.
Whilst I've nothing against the film eventually turning into a slasher movie (god knows I love a good slasher movie), and quite an inventive one with Bacon's invisible form being revealed in clouds of billowing steam and bags of blood tossed through the air, I think it could have kept all of its horrific elements and still had Sebastian Caine be a more tragic and sympathetic figure. Like Jeff Goldblum's Seth Brundle in Cronenberg's The Fly, for example.
Instead, we get a glossy B-Movie with a Hollywood budget. It's missing the sly humour and emotional gut punch that Verhoeven somehow sneaks in, in amongst all the blood, tits and violence. Not just a Hollow Man then, but a hollow movie too.