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Hollow Man

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4

*Also starring: Josh Brolin, Kim Dickens, Mary Jo Randle, Greg Grunberg, Steve Altes, William Devane, Rhona Mitra, Joey Slotnick

Review by Edward Johnson-Ott
2 stars out of 4

In the opening moments of "Hollow Man," a rat scurries across the floor, then hesitates as it hears ominous growling sounds. Suddenly, the twitching rodent is hoisted into the air by an unseen force and we watch as something takes a huge chunk out of the hovering animal's body. The scene is lurid, technically stunning and quite viscous, perfectly setting the tone for what is to follow.

"Hollow Man," a thriller about an invisible maniac, is a fascinating piece of work despite its flat, obvious script; thanks to top-notch special effects and the skewed perspective of director Paul Verhoeven, the Dutch filmmaker who brought the world "Robocop," "Total Recall," "Basic Instinct," "Showgirls" and "Starship Troopers." Verhoeven is to directing what Spinal Tap is to rock and roll, enthusiastically turning the control knob up to 11 while assaulting viewers with heavy-handed bursts of sex and violence. As with most Verhoeven films, "Hollow Man" is simultaneously campy and creepy. This is a guilty pleasure with the accent on guilty. After the closing credits, I felt an intense need to wash my hands.

Kevin Bacon plays Sebastian Caine, a cocky, but brilliant scientist trying to perfect an invisibility formula for his backers at the Pentagon. SPOILER ALERT: THE FOLLOWING REVEALS BASIC PLOT POINTS. After a successful experiment with a gorilla, Caine decides to skip protocol and try the process on a human being, using himself as the guinea pig. Without the knowledge of government liaison Dr. Arthur Kramer (William Devane), Caine convinces his teammates - ex-girlfriend Linda McCay (Elisabeth Shue), stud muffin Matt Kensington (Josh Brolin) and casualties-waiting-to-happen Sarah Kennedy (Kim Dickens), Carter Abbey (Greg Grunberg), Frank Chase (Joey Slotnick) and Janice Walton (Mary Randle) - to strap him to the table and inject the serum into his veins.

Within seconds, Caine is writhing in agony as he slowly begins to disappear, a layer at a time, in a spectacular visual sequence. His skin fades first, followed by muscles, internal organs and finally his skeleton. After recovering from the trauma, Caine joins his comrades in celebrating their success, but their giddiness turns to dread when attempts to return him to visibility utterly fail.

While his fellow scientists struggle to find a restoration formula, Caine's behavior takes a drastic downward turn. He begins indulging his secret urges; copping a feel from a sleeping female teammate and spying on Linda in the sack. When he makes a trip to the apartment of a voluptuous neighbor, things take a violent, deeply disturbing turn. Whether the serum or his own megalomaniacal tendencies trigger the change is uncertain, but his crew must face the fact that their leader has gone crazy, and their lives may be forfeit if they can't find a way to stop him. END SPOILER ALERT.

Story-wise, "Hollow Man" is just a formula horror flick. In fact, Andrew Marlowe's screenplay fumbles obvious opportunities by mostly confining Caine to the group compound instead of unleashing him on the public. Character development is sketchy at best; the supporting players are one-note and Caine merely slides from being a relatively sophisticated creep to becoming a much more dangerous one.

While the press notes for the film feature impressive quotes about the corrupting nature of power, the movie never addresses them. Make no mistake, "Hollow Man" is simply an exercise in special effects and grisly cheap thrills. But the special effects are knockouts and it's fascinating to watch Paul Verhoeven (to paraphrase Monty Burns from "The Simpsons") wallow in his own directorial crapulence.

Verhoeven grew up in occupied Holland during World War II and witnessed the ravages of war from a child's point of view. During a recent interview, he acknowledged (almost grudgingly) that there is goodness in the human spirit, but made it clear that his interest lies in the dark side of souls.

Boy howdy! Verhoeven movies are veritable orgies of violence and sex, with glossy settings and superhuman characters that treat the death of loved ones lightly (when a scientist's body falls out of a locker, her friends shriek in surprise, but display no sadness whatsoever) and handle grave wounds with remarkable ease (one character sticks her fingers deeply into the stomach wound of a colleague, announces "It didn't cut any organs," and patches him up with duct tape (!!); then the pair continue their very strenuous adventures).

It would be easy to mock or dismiss Verhoeven for the cheesy overkill. In fact, I've done so before, particularly with "Showgirls" and "Starship Troopers." But this time, I kept thinking of that little boy in Holland, forced by German troops to look at piles of dead bodies on the streets. All grown up, he copes with the memories by creating violent films where sexy, extraordinarily powerful humans fight operatic battles against the forces of evil. My interpretation could be wrong, of course, but it sure makes comic book gore-porn like "Hollow Man" a lot more interesting.

Copyright 2000 Edward Johnson-Ott

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