Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Film Review: HOLLOW MAN (2000, Paul Verhoeven)

Stars: 3.5 of 5.
Running Time: 112 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Kevin Bacon, Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Shue, Kim Dickens (DEADWOOD, ZERO EFFECT), William Devane (ROLLING THUNDER, FAMILY PLOT), Greg Grunberg (the pilot from the pilot of LOST, STAR TREK '09). Music by Jerry Goldsmith (POLTERGEIST, FIRST BLOOD). Edited by Mark Goldblatt (THE TERMINATOR, ENTER THE NINJA, COMMANDO). Cinematography by Jost Vacano (ROBOCOP, TOTAL RECALL, UNTAMED HEART).
Tag-line: "What would you do if you knew you couldn't be seen?"
Best one-liner: "You think you're God? I'll show you God!"

Paul Verhoeven continues to give America the movies they really deserve, but sometimes he gives a little too hard. Is HOLLOW MAN a good movie? Well... no. But I enjoyed it in a certain "Verhoeven declares war on popular culture" kind of spirit. The bad CGI is a bitter pill to swallow, but it's in service to a story which defines us as voyeuristic, misogynistic, 7-11 Big Gulp-swilling, murderous swine.

The Big Gulp in question.

And, as something of a merry misanthrope, I like it just fine. So while it doesn't possess the potent artistry of SOLDIER OF ORANGE or FLESH + BLOOD, the sheer watchability of TOTAL RECALL or ROBOCOP, or the unbridled camp value of SHOWGIRLS, here are a few reasons why HOLLOW MAN deserves to be seen both by aficionados of spit-takes and the spandex stylings of one Mr. Slim Goodbody.

#1. Seriously, though. SLIM GOODBODY.

I can't be the only one who was shown these videos in elementary school, sitting uncomfortably on the floor of the cafeteria while the teacher fiddled with the VCR tracking to finally reveal a man in a semi-anatomically correct spandex suit surrounded by a phalanx of puppets worthy of THE LETTER PEOPLE spouting inanities that were tangentially related to nutritional health. Anyway, it was nice to see a big-budget, feature film devoted to his work.

Also- is it a coincidence that both feature a formless, eyeless latex/felt monstrosity?

Pay no attention to the racist, anthropomorphic reel-to-reel player on the right.

Also, I am 100% certain that this was the inspiration for BODIES...The Exhibition, which is frankly amazing.

#2. Alright, so the latex face is actually pretty scary.

It's one of the few things about this film that is genuinely effective, but after an hour and a half of screentime, you're completely desensitized. Ah, well.

#3. "See...you...later ...(FACE)."

Probably the greatest words ever uttered by an about-to-be invisible man... to himself. Bacon really sells it, too. And as a side note- is it any wonder that Christian Slater got the gig for HOLLOW MAN 2?

Bacon nods approvingly upon learning that Slater will star in the straight-to-video sequel.

#4. William Devane. I was surprised to see him pop up in this. I'm a big Devane fan, from his commandingly low-key psychotic war vet in ROLLING THUNDER to his nefarious dandy-type in FAMILY PLOT to his G-man crony in MARATHON MAN.

It's nice to see he's still getting genre work and showing up in films like this, PAYBACK, and even on TV's 24. As always, he excels at playing a government sleaze who still possesses tangible pathos.

#5. The beautiful, likable, and talented Kim Dickens ('Joanie Stubbs' on TV's DEADWOOD), again subject to the mercies of a hideous haircut which threatens to consume our attentions, like some impossible fusion of 'Klute' and THE BLOB.

How bizarre that a system devoted to the objectification of women seems hellbent on subverting the aesthetic impact of Kim Dickens via awful haircuttery- (Even LOST did it, too.) -will wonders never cease? Regardless, she rises above the haircut and the role, even though her major plot point involves invisible man nipple-tweaking. Which leads us to–

#6. Finally a movie which tackles such high-concept wonders as invisible man nipple tweaking, invisible man puke, and invisible man bathroom peeping. Perhaps Verhoeven's greatest coup is amassing $95 million for a movie about an invisible man, and then devoting to fetishistic degeneracy, heavy-duty perversions, and ultimately rape and murder! Between this and SHOWGIRLS, though, it's little wonder that he hasn't worked in Hollywood since.

#7. Josh Brolin saved by a trashcan fire.

And here I thought I'd never see anybody saved by a trashcan fire this side of STREET TRASH. Who knew?

#8. A surprisingly evocative and foreboding score courtesy of Jerry Goldsmith. Not surprising in that it came from Jerry Goldsmith, just surprising in that it accompanies HOLLOW MAN.


Technically, it's only thermal imaging, but after its rampant overuse in PREDATOR 2, I have no choice but to call it PREDATOR-VISION. Also, Mark Goldblatt edited both HOLLOW MAN and PREDATOR 2. Coincidence?- or predilection for PREDATOR-VISION?

#10. "You think you're God, I'll show you God, FOOOOOOSH"

I'll keep this as vague as possible, plotwise, but I have to say this is the greatest one-liner to accompany a flamethrower attack since ACTION JACKSON's "How ya like your ribs?....FOOOOOOOSH."

In the end, Verhoeven crafts a film which is big, dumb, kinda fun, and intent on rubbing the faces of theatergoers in their own depravities. Obviously he better serves the world through his art films (TURKISH DELIGHT, BLACK BOOK, et al.) and his scholarly ruminations (JESUS OF NAZARETH), so I can't realllly recommend this, but I can think of far worse ways to waste 112 minutes. Three and a half stars.

-Sean Gill


Space Cadet said...

I think I was more won over by the Hollow Man than most people. Audiences wanted a story that more fully explored the possibilities of being invisible from a sympathetic everyman point of view. What they got was, as criticized, just another slasher B-movie. Well, I agree that it’s a B-movie, but I also think it uses the invisibility premise to make a cynical point about humanity, one that is indicated in the very title. I’m intrigued by the idea that Sebastian Caine has no real character arc. Even before the experiment, Caine is already a borderline sociopath, as exemplified by his egomaniacs and total disregard for ethical boundaries (he even wears a purple satin shirt & tie to a meeting with US defense contractors. I mean, hello?! – this guy’s an asshole).

Yet he’s still able to maintain himself under basic rules of right and wrong. Caine may be morally defunct, but he’s still civil. The question is, why? What is it that keeps Caine under control? Why doesn’t he just stroll on over and rape Rhona Mitra the first time around? Answer: form. Specifically, the psychology of form. I think the film proposes the idea that, for every homicidal maniac in the world, there are so many more walking among us (perhaps you or I) with the same latent natures, but natures kept under lock’n’key simply due to physical form. It’s kind of an existential thing… that social norm and physical form are symbiotic. We function properly within society simply because we are a physical part of it. Man associates with morality only when acknowledged by his fellow man as an actual, physical being. Of course, Caine is just as physically there after the experiment as he is before. But, again, it’s the psychological aspect – form as defined within our minds. Invisibility didn’t change Caine, it freed him.

“It’s amazing what you can do when you don’t have to look at yourself in the mirror.”

Verhoeven offers up the theme visually, when Cain’s water rinsed face evaporates; when he swats away at a buzzing fly before catching and killing it with his ungloved invisible hand. There’s even a line of dialogue that serves up a nice double entendre: “The concept of Sebastian is much more interesting than Sebastian.” – referencing the character as the seemingly abstract entity he becomes. I don’t know. I liked Hollow Man. I agree that it’s probably Verhoeven’s weakest Hollywood genre movie but I still think it works well enough on its own (it’s got Shue in her panties. Win.) and, if nothing else, is technically well made. Verhoeven is a superb cameraman director. It’s also true that Goldsmith elevates the material, but that’s not saying much; when do his contributions ever fail? Even Congo rocks an awesome score.

J.D. said...

I would also agree that HOLLOW MAN is the weakest of Verhoeven's Hollywood fare because he doesn't go far enough with the concept. It felt like he was being hemmed by executives and I believe I read somewhere that they exerted a lot of control over the production which led to Verhoeven leaving Hollywood. Based on other films of his, the film isn't extreme enough (if that's possible) and certain bits of behavior once Caine is invisible are not explored enough.

That being said, the film was pretty good up until the end when it loses its damn MIND and Caine suddenly becomes superhuman, unstoppable killing machine. What, just because he's invisible he gets super powers? I didn't buy it and it ruined the film for me. It was pretty good up until that point and then Verhoeven lost me.

Sean Gill said...

Space Cadet,

Thanks for your thoughtful comments- it is interesting that Bacon is set up as a complete asshole from the start (the purple satin shirt is fairly mind-blowing), and that the experiment itself is not what made him a sociopath. I was afraid that "it was the experiment that twisted his mind!" would become the main thrust of the film after the characters began to act as if invisibility made the gorilla more violent, but thankfully that didn't end up being the case. The idea that we maintain social niceties because of our form at any given time is a compelling one, and one which Verhoeven explored tangentially in FLESH + BLOOD, whereupon the young princess can lie her way to survival so long as she's never physically present at the same time as both of her 'suitors' and thus has to make a concrete choice- poisonous words no longer cut it. Conversely, in BLACK BOOK, our undercover heroine becomes "a Nazi" in physical form despite remaining mentally a member of the resistance, a distinction which is harder for others to comprehend during the 'punish the collaborators!' chaos which breaks loose after liberation.


I know what you mean about it not being 'extreme' enough for Verhoeven, and perhaps if the final superhuman half hour were replaced with something more of Verhoeven's own design (i.e., something that could still be gory, but driven by his patented squirm-inducingly accurate skewings of human psychology instead of straight-to-video slasher movies) it could rank with his upper-tier Hollywood output. Ah, well.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to take a more simplistic approach to this movie; I can't stand Kevin Bacon.

Tempest said...

I liked this film a lot too, when I saw it in the movie theater. I had a classmate who made similar comments in that she didn't like how he just became a psycho. She also said they should have explored more of what would you if you were invisible.

As for Slater being in the sequel, it was what renewed my interest in Slater. I saw the sequel on tv a few years back. I had no idea there was a sequel, that Slater was in it, then I got to thinking, "Whatever happened to Christian Slater, anyway?" But these comments would be more appropriate for a Slater review, perhaps if anyone were to post a review of the sequel.....

Sean Gill said...


I appreciate your candor. I suppose not everyone can be won over by The 'Bac!


Well, I'm obviously tempted now to see the Slater version, but by reports it sounds as if he's not actually in it for long. Is that actually the case?

Tempest said...

Yes, Sean, sadly, it's true. Not to give away too much, but the film role is mostly Slater's voice. He is already invisible once the movie starts. It was a DTV release.