Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #595
Number of Views: Three
Release Date: August 4, 2000
Sub-Genre: Science Fiction/Thriller
Country of Origin: United States/Germany
Running Time: 112 minutes
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Producers: Douglas Wick, Alan Marshall
Screenplay: Andrew W. Marlowe, Gary Scott Thompson (Story)
Special Effects: Stan Parks
Visual Effects: Craig Hayes
Cinematography: Jost Vacano
Score: Jerry Goldsmith
Editing: Mark Goldblatt
Studios: Columbia Pictures Corporation, Global Entertainment Productions GmbH & Company Medien KG
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Stars: Elisabeth Shue, Kevin Bacon, Josh Brolin, Kim Dickens, Greg Grunberg, Joey Slotnick, Mary Randle, William Devane, Rhona Mitra, Pablo Espinosa, Margot Rose
Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫
 Jerry Goldsmith Hollow Man
 Jerry Goldsmith Bloody Floor
Who in their right mind wouldn’t bite your hand off for the chance to become invisible just for one day? As far as superpowers go, there are few that offer such exclusive opportunities for mild mischief. Personally I’d straight off to the nearest women’s locker room and grab myself an eyeful or two of lots of nude ladies lathering themselves seductively and, if you think that’s perverted, then sue me as I’m fairly assured that’s where all the invisible guys hang out and we’ll haunt you collectively if you raise objection. What’s the point of being imperceivable to the naked eye anyhoots if you’re not planning to get playful with it? Just giving you the heads up as, the moment a serum becomes patented, I fully intend on lurking some, in the interests of science you understand. You may not be able to see my boner but it will be there so just be careful where you hang those egyptian towels, that’s all I’m saying.
One man who knows precisely where I’m coming from is Dr. Sebastian Caine (Kevin Bacon), although this particular cat is far less inclined to keep things PG-13. By all accounts, he is something of a genius, and is right on the cusp of a scientific breakthrough that will see him reach the very pinnacle of his game. Having developed a serum that can grant a subject invisibility, he is pretty much invaluable to the military and his mentor Dr. Howard Kramer (William Devane) who is growing increasingly impatient waiting for the imminent breakthrough to be announced. Right now, he and his team have gotten as far as testing it out on lab gorillas and the next logical step is to find themselves a real live guinea pig. Of course, the subject would need to be borderline insane, recently jilted by their lover, willing to risk their life on a maybe, and possess far more in the way of ego than common sense. Had I mentioned that Sebastian’s first love is Sebastian? Talk about a no-brainer.
To assist him in making the most important decision of his life, how do you like these apples? His loyal co-worker Dr. Linda McKay (Elisabeth Shue) just so happens to be an old flame and, while all but extinguished on her side, Sebastian still hasn’t exactly come to terms with her rejection. He’s got nobody but himself to blame for letting her slip through his fingers as all work and no play makes Sebastian a constant thorn in one’s side. But with the team getting ready to celebrate a monumental success, he sees no reason why the after party can’t be back in his apartment, with her face pressed up against his headboard. When Linda rebuffs his advances, the term “nothing to lose” holds far more weight, and he doesn’t even know the half of it yet. Turns out that another of his associates, Dr. Matt Kensington (Josh Brolin) has picked up the reins in his absence and work is no longer the only interest these two have in common.
So Sebastian agrees to play the part of lab rat and with mixed responses from his colleagues. With the exception of Carter (Greg Grunberg), who worships the ground he walks on, the others are apprehensive to say the least. Take Sarah (Kim Dickens) for example, there is no lost love between her and Sebastian and she’s got more time for the lab monkeys than him. With a dash of deception to keep them in the dark, he manages to convince them to partake in his madness, with the promise of unbounded professional stature once he crack this stubborn nut once and for all. As for the procedure itself, well let’s just say that it’s something of a white-knuckle ride, and the kind where you keep those defibrillator pads juiced up and at the ready at all times. Realizing that personal gain cannot occur without a fair dose of pain, this poses little concern to Sebastian as he’s already way beyond halfway to certifiable and far too curious and self-important to back out now. It’s time for him to feel a small prick.
Early signs are encouraging enough as invisibility is indeed achieved and it’s high fives all round as they prepare to break open the champers. Alas, for our willing volunteer, celebrations can not be permitted to take place outside of the facility and he is quarantined indefinitely pending further notice. Now anyone who has watched him in Footloose will be only too aware of the ants in Bacon’s pants and there’s no way he’s gonna like being cooped up, prodded and poked, until which time as the others suss out how to reverse the drug’s effects and bring his transparent ass back. Naturally it is all fun and games initially but, as the days wear on and he becomes increasingly stir crazy, push is about to come to shove in a major way. But first, it would be positively unheard of not to embrace his inner wanderlust right? We’re not talking anything heavy, just a couple of hours of sucking in some authentic suburban smog and perhaps a quick visit to his neighbor (Rhona Mitra).
I feel sorry for Bacon really I do. In Nicole Kassell‘s The Woodsman he played the part of a convicted child offender desperate to overcome his disease after being released from prison. So what do they do, they hook him up with housing opposite a freaking schoolyard to entice him back into custody in double-quick time. Here he is placed in a remarkably similar predicament and all those nights spent gazing across to her apartment in the opposite building has taken its toll on his ability to resist offering her an invisible length. Fuck it, who’s to know right? I mean, it’s not like he has any discernible conscience, can access her boudoir with relative ease thanks to the marvels of doorbell technology, has two heaving testicles that Linda sure as shit ain’t likely to be milking, and will never have to suffer the indignity of lining up in an identity parade as invisibility is next to ghostliness after all. These no-brainers just keep on coming.
When you consider that the guy on the other end of the roving lens is none other than flying Dutchman Paul Verhoeven, you should be under no illusion that things are about to get decidedly messy and, while Hollow Man represents his attempt at a more conventionally commercial blockbuster after the likes of Robocop, Total Recall, Basic Instinct, and Starship Troopers ramped the sex and violence up to excess, leopards look far better in their spots. Regrettably, his American adventure ended here as the film was met with an overwhelming amount of negativity on its theatrical unveiling. That said, one area where the critics were unanimous with their praise is the visual effects, and this one earns itself a much deserved double dang from Keeper. If you were judging a film on how much optical candy it supplies your eyes, then this would unquestionably be Verhoeven’s finest hour.
With over half of the film’s $95 million budget going into the effects, Hollow Man looks fantastic, and still holds up well a decade and a half later. However it is the tone of the film that drew such harsh criticism, with many attacking it for degenerating into essentially a horror movie by its final act. Admittedly it does become increasingly implausible towards the end and Sebastian’s transition from playful tyke to murderous goon could be considered improbable but it is science fiction after all and only asks that you suspend disbelief a little and simply enjoy the ride. With Verhoeven at the helm, it’s certainly never in danger of growing stale, and 112 minutes coast by reasonably effortlessly so that’s job done in my book.
As for the performances, well Bacon is perfectly cast as our loopy scientist and really gives it his all. For as much as his actions are lamentable, there’s a genuine likeability to Sebastian, for the first two acts at least and any voyeurs amongst us will be right there alongside him egging him on as he explores his new ability. Meanwhile both Shue and Brolin do well in their supporting roles, as do the rest of the cast across the board. Jerry Goldsmith’s string-heavy score, while reminiscent of earlier compositions and perhaps not one of his best, adds an additional layer of excitement to proceedings but ultimately the extraordinary visual effects are the real star here and were single-handedly responsible for Hollow Man doubling up on its original outlay during its brief theatrical run. Without the bells and whistles, this is a pretty conventional story, and would be largely forgettable when all is said than done.
Alas, Verhoeven decided that enough was enough after the critical mauling it received and this was the last film he shot on American soil before returning to his homeland. The grossly misunderstood Showgirls certainly didn’t help his cause and this proved to be the final nail in his stateside coffin. That said, he has since brought us the magnificent Black Book, which I regard as possibly his magnum opus, and with his latest project Elle currently earning rave reviews after something of a lean spell by his standards, it would appear that the flying Dutchman hasn’t misplaced his touch. While not quite up to the lofty standard of his crème de la crème, Hollow Man offers more than enough crowd-pleasing shenanigans to overlook its flaws and, just like Sebastian Caine himself, should be ignored at your peril.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Grue Rating: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Verhoeven’s films are seldom short of the red stuff and, by the closing act, Hollow Man escalates into something of a blood bath with no expense spared with regards to the blood bags. After Starship Troopers he made a conscious decision to tone things down some and the result is the first film of his that the MPAA didn’t request he tamper with to achieve its R-rating. As for nudity, and he’d be well within his rights to go all in here given the subject matter, he holds back admirably dagnabbit although there are still plenty of reasons for us to go necking those serums.
Read Robocop Appraisal
Read Basic Instinct Appraisal
Read Showgirls Appraisal
Read Friday The 13th (1980) Appraisal
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of the Crimson Quill
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