Hollow Man is a timely, millennial reworking of the 1933 sci-fi classic The Invisible Man. The original – based on the HG Wells novel – made a household name out of Claude Raines and was directed by another film legend, James Whale (Frankenstein). This invisible update has high-brow origins according to its director, Dutch-born US emigre Paul Verhoeven (Starship Troopers, Total Recall, Robocop). Although scripted by Andrew W. Marlowe (Air Force One) as a fairly straight action movie, Verhoeven, always the extremist, brings his fascination for “evil” and the dark side of humanity to his interpretation of the script. Plus a key inspirational quote by Verhoeven’s favourite Greek philospher, Plato, which has haunted the director since his heady high school days in the 50s: “if a man were to become invisible he will steal left and right, he would enter every house, he would rape women and kill men and open up prisons. In fact he would become like a god among humankind” (from The Republic). This is definitely a “what if” kinda film.
Sounds disturbing and potentially it is. Verhoeven’s Hollywood ouevre at least has been to tackle the extremes, to meditiate on the the “dark side” and serve the audience “want they want” and then some. Having grown up in Holland during the German occupation in WWII, Verhoeven has never shied away from critiquing the machinations of the fascist state in his films (see Starship Troopers), corporate imperialism (Robocop) and sexual extremes (Basic Instinct). Versed well in the art of propaganda movies – with which he dabbled during his Marine Corps years in Holland – Verhoeven’s films often straddle fuzzy lines; do they glorify or critique the dark side of human behaviour? Inevitably this leaves his work (and messages) wide open to misinterpretation. For this reviewer however, it is precisely the ambiguity vigorously on display in Paul Verhoeven’s films which makes them so profound, engaging and ultimately subversive.
Hollow Man falls just short of the excesses and the hardcore cultural commentary enthusiastically woven into his previous films (let’s not forget Showgirls here – a completely misunderstood film for which many are yet to forgive him). Hollow Man prefers more to unpick a few stiches in the patient here, still it raises many prescient ideas about “the big issues”: science and nature, scientific ethics, bio-engineering, vivisection, and State and individual responsibility. Plus it’s a breathtakingly good action film with brilliant effects, used to serve the film instead of overwhelm it. Star Kevin Bacon revisits the meglamania he gleefully displayed in Flatliners, and his River Wild bad guy for Hollow Man, relishing the role of Sebastion Caine, a mad scientist who discovers “the god within”. Funded by the Pentagon, Caine and his dedicated co-workers (played by Elisabeth Shue, Josh Brolin, Kim Dickens, Joey Slotnick and Mary Randle) have developed a formula for invisiblity. After several animal trials, Caine cannot resist testing the formula on himself. Mayhem and murder ensue to the distress of his long-suffering scientist colleagues; they’ve already had enough putting up with his well-inflated ego when they could see him. Now he’s not only unbearable when he’s invisible, he’s a peeping-tom-sexual-pervert-violent-pain-in-the-butt as well…
Although Hollow Man eventually settles on becoming a straight action film – with a passing resemblance to Alien and Terminator 2 – Paul Verhoeven and his team have managed to produce a big-budget Sci-Fi “corker”, and, a movie a cut way above recent FX-riddled sci-fi fare.