Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Hollow Man (Verhoeven, 2000)

There is a point early in Hollow Man in which a character playfully chastises the scientists from a balcony (nicknamed "Heaven"), saying that he is God and that they will be eternally punished for steppin' on his turf. This is, of course, the idea behind all mad scientist films, and so this line is a wink to the audience. It is this self-referentiality and self-conscious humor that I love about Verhoeven's cinema. To this jestful warning, Kevin Bacon's character responds "I'm God."

So the story is this: man overrides military (why would the military want invisible people anyway?) to test invisoserum on himself. He touches some tits. Maybe rapes a woman. Loves his power, has to kill people so he can get away with it. Slasher film, but with presumed college graduates rather than dumb teenagers. Basically, this film manages to be enjoyable, moderately kitschy, and not much else.

The moral premise is intriguing, but indulged all too seldom. "It's amazing what you can do when you don't have to look at yourself in the mirror any more" says Sebastian (Kevin Bacon). This is, relatively, a revelation. Relative, that is, to the rest of the movie's implausible action set pieces and genre film tropes. And that's about as 'deep' as the movie gets. The title, Hollow Man, refers both to the invisibility schtick and the fact that man (Sebastian) and Man (Mankind) are hollow, whether that be morally, in the face of power, or in striving for glory (according to this film, all of the above). Rarely is this explicated outside of Sebastian, but one instance calls attention to itself: a man is bleeding horribly from a Bacon-induced wound, and a woman goes to get blood to save his life. However, she discerns that Sebastian is in the room with her, and without hesitation flings the blood over the floor. Of course, she must save herself to save her coworker, but it's unlikely she was being pragmatic. Her fight-or-flight reflex is a counterpoint to the Bacon God. The blood is also a neat visual opportunity, so let's go on to that next.

The special effects are great. Even if the film is a bit silly, it can't be argued that the effects are necessitated by the plot and not the other way around... ok, so a little. There are convenient uses of water and the earlier mentioned blood that probably existed as visual ideas before plot points (it would explain their moderately hackneyed nature). Nonetheless, watching the cardiac map of a gorilla being materialized intravenously is a sight to behold.

Despite the hollowness (tee hee) of the proceedings, I still liked the film. One scene in particular, near the end, pushed me to the fence between "Fresh" and "Rotten": that damn elevator set piece. What a profound waste of computer animator talent that was. Of course, people could react that way to the entire movie, so who am I to judge. This is not to mention Mrs. MacGyver's electromagnet machine.

With more genre subversion, this could've been a nice little post modern statement, maybe doing for the mad scientist genre what Unforgiven did for the western (though the western is a bit more critically prestigious than the mad scientist flicks, and perhaps it should be that way; I'm no aficionado). However, it's just fun, occasionally funny, almost always stupid (though infrequently insultingly so), and forgivable (for Verhoeven fanboys, at least).

One line in the film reflects my own dry sense of humor quite well: when asked if he has any last words before being invisofied, Sebastian says "Yeah. If I die, pretend I said something deep and clever." It's too bad that, if Verhoeven died immediately after making this film, no one could say the same for him.


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