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HOLLOW MAN

Review by Andrew Manning (7/00)

Release: 2000, Sony
Starring: Kevin Bacon, Elisabeth Shue, Josh Brolin, Kim Dickens
Director: Paul Verhoeven
MPAA Rating: [R] violence, sexuality, language
Genre: Thriller/Science Fiction/Horror


There's more to fear than you can see...



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SUMMARY

When brilliant scientist Sebastian Caine (Bacon) develops a serum that can induce invisibility, he successfully tests it on himself, only to discover that the procedure cannot be reversed. Under the protection of invisibility, Sebastian begins to shun the law and basic morality in favor of acting out all his desires. Eventually, a former friend and colleague (Shue) must stop his self-indulgent rampage.

THE SUDDEN RUNDOWN

Breakthrough special effects enhance the chilling premise of what man is capable of when there are no consequences. Hollow Man is one of the best psychological thrillers of the year.

WHAT'S GOOD

It's got a good cast, cutting edge special effects, and enough unexpected shockers to qualify it as a bonafied horror film. But Hollow Man's first and foremost strength is the philosophical question it tackles: what would someone do if they could act out every desire without consequence? The writers of this top notch psychological thriller take the position that man only conforms to laws and morals for fear of punishment, and that someone who could do anything without repercussions would indulge every basic desire--greed, lust, anger, and all that other fun stuff.

Embodying such id run rampant is Dr. Sebastian Caine (Kevin Bacon). After testing his invisibility serum on animals, he disobeys government orders and tests it on himself, rendering himself invisible. But things take a dark turn once he realizes the procedure is permanent. The pranks begin innocently enough, with Sebastian pulling harmless practical jokes. But when he becomes intoxicated with the rush of being the so-called Hollow Man, he begins to break the very laws of society. He breaks into homes, evades the law, and takes whatever he wants.

Out to stop him is his colleague and ex-lover Linda (Elisabeth Shue). Having been on the team that discovered the invisibility serum, she can easily match wits with Sebastian, but she's at the severe and obvious disadvantage of not being able to see him. Fueled by desire, narcissism, and finally jealousy (Sebastian is enraged when Linda begins seeing another man, played by Josh Brolin), Sebastian evolves into a virtually unstoppable monster. Linda is determined to stop him, despite whatever feelings she may have for him. While Sebastian is a bit smug and self-important from the beginning, he isn't a monster from the start--and it's that gradual and inevitable descent into inhumanity that makes him such an interesting character to watch.

Kevin Bacon obviously isn't seen much in this movie, so his presence relies strongly on three elements: Bacon's delivery of his lines, the writers making him out to be a beast by virtue of his wicked deeds, and the special effects that suggest the presence of the Hollow Man. Bacon's delivery is right on the money: he imbues Sebastian with enough cockiness to make him unlikable and enough instability to make him dangerous. But even in spite of such a dark depiction, Sebastian isn't completely hissable, because in the back of your mind, you're vicariously indulging in the fantasy of being invisible.

Elisabeth Shue, a wonderful actress and mom bomb who hasn't had a high profile role since her Academy nominated performance in Leaving Las Vegas, is excellent as Sebastian's foil. She plays Linda with realism despite the fact that she is in a completely unrealistic situation. Linda is smart and resilient, and is only action hero enough to desperately defend herself from the invisible terror. She's not too over the top--she's no Sigourney Weaver in Aliens, for example, and the grounding is a nice touch.

The writers focus strongly on making Sebastian and Linda enthralling characters placed in interesting situations. If you can accept the concept of invisibility, then the rest of the movie will come easily. In one scene, Sebastian breaks into Linda's home while she is sleeping and tries to indulge his lust. His ultimate disregard for decent morality demonstrates to the audience just how evil he really is. This is scary in two ways: in the traditional demonic boogeyman sense, and from the perspective that any man is capable of such deeds if given the opportunity.

Finally, the special effects simply have to be hailed as breakthrough. When the serum is injected into an animal and finally into Sebastian himself, the results are eye-popping. The serum starts from the injection point, then follows a biologically realistic path along the bloodstream, spreading throughout the entire body: Sebastian's skin vanishes, then the muscles and internal organs, and finally his skeleton. Layer by layer, he seems to melt away. The effects are also impressive when they try to reverse the invisibility. Thanks to a new generation of CG effects, the human anatomy is rendered in unbelievable detail. As the serum takes effect, Sebastian's whole body clenches with painful and horrific realism. You've got to see this one to believe it.

Throughout the film, the creators reveal Sebastian's spectral presence through a variety of innovative ways: he walks through rain, smoke, fire, water, and blood. Several textures are explored, making for very interesting and sometimes unnerving visuals.

Hollow Man is a successful experiment in special effects, but also presents a gripping story. It's what a good psychological thriller should be: claustrophobic, paranoid, and originating from the evil deeds of man. In a summer full of disappointments, it's a welcome reprise that is not to be missed.


WHAT'S BAD

The sexual history shared between Sebastian and Linda is a mixed bag. On the plus side, it gives the two a background together, and gives a good reason why Sebastian eventually goes mad with jealousy. But on the other hand, it's also a bit obvious and cliche. Josh Brolin, the new guy that Elisabeth Shue runs to when Kevin can no longer bring home the Bacon, is stuck playing the "nice guy." You understand why Shue's character dumped Bacon's, but you don't really have any particular love for Brolin's character. He may be one of the good guys, but he's also boring as hell, especially when compared to Sebastian.

Hollow Man sometimes abandons its intellectual premise and resorts to cheap scares like a bad horror flick. Such instances include scenes where Bacon's invisible Sebastian is suddenly revealed out of nowhere and perpetrates some evil. There are enough of these scenes to make the notion seem redundant, prompting many other critics to tag the movie...well, "hollow."

The last thirty minutes of the movie are clearly the least satisfying, and don't quite live up to the basic premise. There are times when it feels like you're watching standard monster-fare--the old horror cliche where the good guys foolishly "go inside the house looking for the monster." Sometimes you feel that the scientists should stop screwing around and just outright kill Sebastian--"stop throwing sleeping darts at him, throw some bullets instead!"


Rating: 7.5 out of 10 (0=Abysmal, 5=Average, 10=Excellent)
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