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'Hollow Man': Running on Empty

By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 4, 2000


    'Hollow Man' Elisabeth Shue and Josh Brolin contribute to Kevin Bacon's transformation into "Hollow Man." (Sony Pictures)
At least "Hollow Man" directly confronts the pressing philosophical inquiry regarding the phenomenon of human transparency: If you were suddenly invisible, would you look down the blouse of the first woman you encountered, or would you wait until you encountered a really stunning woman?

Many 9-year-olds of the male persuasion have pondered this conundrum, along with equally profound issues: When will I ever work up the nerve to talk to an actual girl? Or: Could Hitler beat Napoleon in a fair fight?

For the record, the newly invisible Kevin Bacon's Dr. Caine turns out to be staunchly of the first-woman-I-see school, selecting a dozing but otherwise unimpressive veterinarian for his subject.

He acts as though, at age 38, he's never seen a breast before. Hasn't he ever been to the movies? Didn't he see "Showgirls" or "Basic Instinct," both of which were directed by "Hollow Man's" master of feckless excess, the Dutch bad boy Paul Verhoeven?

The movie stays at the blouse-peeping level for a bit, then transmogrifies into an expensive, if completely routine, slasher pic. New wrinkle: Instead of the mask of a hockey goalie, the killer wears the mask of invisibility. Instead of teenagers, he kills research scientists--who are all dressed like teenagers. Old wrinkle: When he cuts them, they bleed.

When he's made of flesh, Bacon's Caine feels right for the role, given the scrawny actor's wired intensity and edginess. He's the kind of research scientist who wears black leather by Armani, hauls through Washington in a Porsche at 240 mph listening to heavy metal and would consider God a peer.

I think we figure out he's bad when we learn that his first name is Sebastian, on the sound movie principle that guys named Sebastian are always bad. (Minor technical question: How come when he becomes invisible, his mousse is also invisible? I mean, it's not organic; it's just shellacked to his up-top protein nest. This would also apply to deodorant, foot powder, bandages and suppositories, would it not?)

At an underground lab that looks more like a retro-funk club beneath the Navy Yard, he runs a top-secret project, introduced in the movie's only alarming moments, which unfortunately are also its first 30 moments. A rat--skittery, repulsive, twitchy, bewhiskered--sprints across the floor of its cage. The camera tracks it like an Eadweard Muybridge horse study. Suddenly it is snatched up and ruptured. The arterial spatter delineates a predator's chomping jaws. Cool.

After that: uncool. The "scientists," with bare midriffs and their own massive mousse accumulations, have been charged by mysterious OWM (ominous white men) in the Pentagon to develop an invisibility potion. This they've almost done, though how is hard to say: They carry on more like recording-industry executives than researchers, with all their snarly attitudinizing, annoying profanity and narcissistic navel modeling. In fact, to a bellybutton, they're so repulsive that it's hard not to root for their eventual slayer.

Caine, insanely ambitious and self-absorbed, is their leader, who knows everything except--duh--that his ex-girlfriend and No. 2, Linda McKay (Elisabeth Shue, well past the cute stage), is now sleeping with his No. 3, the hunky but stupid Dr. Matt Kensington (Josh Brolin, also way past cute).

I'll spare you details you already know even if you haven't seen it. The short version is that Caine goes transparent, then postal. He does enjoy a few nights out on the town, though Verhoeven doesn't really have as much fun with the voyeuristic aspects of the piece as you'd expect. What flips him is the knowledge of the paramours, at which point the movie devolves to cut-'em-up.

You've seen bloodletting before, though never in a lab 15 stories beneath the Navy Yard. Guess what? It looks the same, no matter where. What you've also never seen is the movie's prime special effect, which is the invisible man in a transitory state. He seems to go to cellophane in cellular layers, from epidermal to muscular to organic to skeletal. This means he becomes a walking (if computer-animated) version of any high school's Anatomy Man, that generic plastic cadaver whose organs all the boys and girls disassemble and play catch with in bio.

You can see the disconnect: Anatomy Man belongs to freshman year, while "Hollow Man" is definitely stuck in the fourth grade.

HOLLOW MAN(R, 113 minutes) – Contains sexual and violent detail, cheesy ideas, voyeurism and soul-deep ugliness.


© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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