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Hollow Man   B

Columbia Pictures

Year Released: 2000
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Writer: Andrew W. Marlowe
Cast: Kevin Bacon, Elizabeth Shue, Josh Brolin, Kim Dickens, Greg Grunberg, William Devane.

Review by Rob Vaux

Plato's Republic makes reference to the Ring of Gyges, which rendered its wearer invisible. According to Plato, anyone who wore the ring would grow corrupt and evil as the invisibility divorced him from the consequences of his actions. He could move about at will, act as he pleased, and have no fear of being caught. The Ring would render him infinitely powerful, rendering his ethical considerations completely obsolete.

And if he were in a Paul Verhoeven film, he'd get to kill a guy with a crowbar.

Hollow Man takes Plato's conceit and updates it with a whole lot of gratuitous gore. It pays lip service to its venerable inspiration, but really can't concern itself too much with philosophy, which is probably for the best. Its protagonist, scientist Sebastian Caine (Kevin Bacon) certainly has the corruption part down when he is rendered invisible during a moment of recklessness on a top secret government project. And just like Plato said, his condition soon turns him into a great big jerk. While his colleagues (including Elizabeth Shue, Josh Brolin, and Kim Dickens) race fervently to make him visible again, his natural egotism blossoms into full-scale dementia. He starts by fondling colleagues and spooking small children, and eventually moves up to raping his neighbors and bashing animals against the wall. Along the way, he gets a chance to sport some amazing visual-effects-laden looks, starting as a living medical diagram (where his body melts away layer by layer) and moving on to become a latex-clad freak, a water-drenched ghost, and ultimately, a blood-soaked psychopath.

Verhoeven has stumbled quite a bit since Robocop put him on the map, but here he manages to keep things pretty well in order. Greek philosophy notwithstanding, Hollow Man has no real function beyond summer entertainment, which means taut action and keen things to watch. Verhoeven doesn't waste much time with plot or character, though what he's got is serviceable enough. The story takes itself a bit too seriously, which leads to some very silly moments, but it also covers all of the pertinent points clearly and concisely. The film does a decent job of charting Caine's gradual descent from mere egomaniac to raving psychopath and carefully notes some of the more esoteric aspects of invisibility (for example, that you might need the lights turned down since your now-transparent eyelids can't block anything), which makes it easy to forgive the inevitable silly moments.

The actors are basically there to watch, and while Bacon makes a fun villain, his scientist colleagues are all pretty stiff. Shue, who received top billing over Bacon, makes us wonder yet again how she could have won an Oscar, and the rest of the cast pretty much sits around and waits to be killed. Of course the real stars here are the effects, and even De Niro might have to take a back seat to such wizardry. Invisibility is usually a one-trick pony, but Hollow Man treats us to plenty of variation, from the old Claude Rains-style masks to some nifty fire-based shots. It looks stunning, and you can have a perfectly enjoyable time just basking in the spectacle of it all. Verhoeven puts the effects to good use with a series of set pieces that -- while stretching belief sometimes -- pack a pretty mean punch.

Hollow Man takes its central conceit from a very old book, but never makes the mistake of trying to live up to it. Instead, it churns out moderately solid summer fun with enough flourishes to gloss over its disposable nature. You may not remember Hollow Man a month from now, but on a warm August night, it easily fulfills its modest aims. With Plato under his belt, maybe Verhoeven can tackle Beyond Good and Evil next time. A good sex scene may be just what that book needs.

Review published 08.11.2000.

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