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HOLLOW MAN(director: Paul Verhoeven; screenwriters: based on a story by Gary Scott Thompson and Mr. Marlowe/Andrew W. Marlowe; cinematographer: Jost Vacano; editor: Mark Goldblatt; cast: Elisabeth Shue (Linda McKay), Kevin Bacon (Sebastian Caine), Josh Brolin (Matthew Kensington), Kim Dickens (Sarah Kennedy), Greg Grunberg (Carter Abbey), Joey Slotnick (Frank Chase), Mary Randle (Janice Walton), William Devane (Dr. Kramer); Runtime: 112; Columbia Pictures; 2000)
“This film becomes a more sublime work than I thought at first.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The ‘hollow man’ is a deranged, egotistical, genius scientist, Dr. Sebastian Caine (Kevin Bacon).

This witty sci-fi film compares favorably with Jimmy Whale’s 1933 classic “The Invisible Man” for its inventive use of ideas, until the film falls into a pyrotechnical ending forgoing ideas in favor of becoming a slasher movie about a scientist going amok and smashing all his creations. His jealous mind becoming crazed as he attacks his research team, feeling that they betrayed him and their work because they were worried solely about their careers. But until then it just seemed like a very entertaining pop culture film, whose satire comes about in comic strip form. It tweaks the side of sensibility in favor of perversity. But then again, it is quite possible that the film is so polemic and so full of contempt for society, that its theme revolves around the scientists surviving in a wasteland anyway they can (maybe a referral to T.S. Eliot’s poetical work”The Hollow Man”).

For the film’s director, Verhoeven, it is imperative that one must do whatever it takes to get by in such an unromantic world. If that is the case and I suspect it is, then this film becomes a more sublime work than I thought at first. Its ideas do not completely vanish in flames by the film’s end but just smolder, even though the film never veers far from being nihilistic.

The Dutch-born Paul Verhoeven (Starship Troopers/Total Recall/Showgirls/Basic Instinct) is a director I never thought of as being subtle, thoroughly hating his fascistic parody, Starship Troopers. He directed this thriller also with an eye to his staple signature — of misanthropy and lurid erotic behavior combined with mind-bending special-effects.

Inside the top-secret lab site in Washington, D.C., we see a rat in a steel cage being devoured by an invisible creature as it goes for some water while monitored by computers amid a dazzling display of high-tech machines. It all takes place in a dark and claustrophobic setting. The invisible creature that gobbled it up and swallowed it, turns out to be a gorilla named Isabelle the Pentagon-financed research team uses as their subject for a project on invisibility.

Sebastian is the brains and team leader of this research team, one in which he hand-picked. We first see him at home by his computer trying to work out a configuration problem he was stuck on for the last eleven months. Meeting with failure on the computer imaging, he looks out at the apartment window across from his to peep at a beautiful woman undress down to her bra and panties before she shuts the blinds. These two failures in one evening bring the genius around to eating a Twinkie, exhorting himself that Da Vinci tried to never sleep as he wanted his mind to always remain active. With that in mind, he suddenly comes up with a solution to the Isabelle invisible puzzle, and he calls his attractive ex-girlfriend Linda (Shue) with the good news. She’s in bed with her new boyfriend, Matthew (Brolin), whom he doesn’t know about. These two are the star players on his team, though neither one has the magical genius quality that Sebastian has but they are nicer human beings than he is. His hubris is so out of whack that he considers himself to be God. The lab technicians on the team are Carter (Grunberg), Janice (Randle), and Frank (Slotnick), each deferring to their project boss in a different way, with Carter the less openly hostile to the boss than the other two, even admiring him for driving a silver Porsche convertible and acting just as hip as a rock star. The veterinarian of the group is the feisty Sarah (Dickens), who is more concerned with the well-being of the animals in these experiments than she is with the scientific conclusions.

The team preps the gorilla for phase two of their research and finds that they can make the gorilla invisible. The special effects are truly stunning, as we watch the gorilla become invisible and her body when it changes looks like one of those see-through bodies in an anatomy textbook. We next see Sebastian, Linda, and Matthew meeting with their project director Dr. Kramer (Devane) and the Pentagon generals to report their findings. But Sebastian throws the other two scientists a monkey wrench, as he fails to tell the committee the positive results of the experiment. Outside the meeting he explains, that if he told Kramer what they discovered the experiment would be taken over by the Pentagon and he wouldn’t be running the show anymore.

Sebastian tells them that they’ll move on to phase three on their own, that he’ll be the subject of the experiment injecting himself with the aqua blue serum that will make him invisible. But once injected with the formula, a snag develops when Sebastian can’t return from being invisible. The research team is more petrified that their careers will be ruined by this illegal research than if Sebastian will be OK; while Sebastian seems to become more of an asshole than before and does the adolescent thing an invisible male might do, he enters his neighbor’s apartment to stare at her naked breasts and then sexually attacks her; he also spies on Linda in bed with Matthew and goes ape over what he sees.

For the last 30 minutes or so, the depraved Sebastian traps his research team in their underground facility and the film goes giddy with gore and becomes a bloody slasher film. The research team is getting knocked off one by one, until it is only Linda and Matthew with a chance to send the evil scientist to hell.

Kevin Bacon was superb as the madman with adolescent cravings to see naked women. Elisabeth Shue was alluring; offering beauty, vulnerability, and a sense of feminine instinct and intelligence to this cynical film. The remaining cast members looked and acted as if they would be part of a research team. This is not a slasher film per se but it could well be, it had all the gore required for a mindless thriller. I found it to be most like a pop culture Hollywood film, only adding its own brand of vitriolic delights to the sci-fi/horror genre — which has spawned many films with much the same tendencies such as “Aliens ” and “The Fly (86);” but, none with the same erotic tendencies and magnificent special effects. This one’s a visual delight, much more intense and sleazier than the other recent similar films of this type.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”