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‘Memoirs of an Invisible Man’ (PG-13)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
February 28, 1992

"Memoirs of an Invisible Man" isn't a movie. It's an identity crisis. The previews would have you believe it's a zany comedy. But the jokes are too far and few between. And if it's a comedy, why is John Carpenter directing it? This is the man who did "Halloween."

The movie's meant to be more serious than that. There's thematic stuff here about loss of identity, alienation and wish fulfillment. But if "Memoirs" wants to get serious, why is Chevy Chase in the lead? This is the man who starred in "National Lampoon's European Vacation."

Caught in the mutative glare of a high-tech industrial accident, San Francisco stock analyst Chase finds himself completely invisible. While he's trying to figure out what happened to him and how to reverse his condition, CIA renegade Sam Neill keeps chasing him around. It seems Chase fits right in with Neill's nefarious espionage plans. Meanwhile, Chase has just struck up a potential love affair with Daryl Hannah. He's supposed to meet her for lunch and he's completely see-through. What's a guy to do?

Three scriptwriters -- Robert Collector, Dana Olsen and William Goldman -- couldn't answer that question. "Memoirs" comes across as a cobbled-together composite of all their efforts. At times the movie's a milquetoast film noir, with Chase as a "D. O. A."-type desperado trying to cure a horrifying condition. Other times, it's all formulaic action, as Neill and his infrared gun-toting goons storm various buildings. Actually, the bad guys are more annoying than threatening -- the CIA equivalent of encyclopedia salesmen.

Sometimes the movie gets philosophical. "I've lost everything but my soul," says Chase. Referring to the advantage of Chase's apolitical, unattached status, plotting Neill says, "The man has a perfect profile. He was invisible before he was invisible."

But when things get too thought-provoking, Chase takes another of his specialty Gerald Ford pratfalls, or Chase and Hannah enjoy a love moment, or those CIA goons come back again.

Unfortunately, director Carpenter is too busy with special effects to notice the fragmentation. In fact, the invisibility sight gags -- engineered by Industrial Light & Magic -- are the best thing about the movie. At one point, Chase (visible to us) holds a telephone to his ear while, in the mirror, only the hovering receiver is visible. At another point, (invisible to us) he lights up a cigarette. As his disembodied voice talks to Hannah, the butt floats in the air in front of her. Smoke goes down a throat-shaped passage into two lung-shaped swirls, then back out again. But connected with such a dissatisfyingly piecemeal movie, these effects become merely transparent.

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