Once while at a party with a handful of movie-loving friends, one dude offered the following as a means of kick-starting the lagging conversation: “Name a movie that you absolutely love that EVERYBODY you know totally hates.” We flipped it around the room and I was amazed at the diversity and admitted relevance of the answers that followed. PLAY IT TO THE BONE, 3000 MILES TO GRACELAND, THE POSTMAN, CROSSROADS (“the Britney Spears version, not the Ralph Macchio version”, was specifically added as a disclaimer), everybody had a guilty pleasure, a trashy movie that they loved in secret, despite anybody else’s opinion.
I saw HOLLOW MAN the day it opened and reveled in the movie’s core of jaded exploitation surrounded by a fluffy thriller plot that has been sandblasted with familiar psychological clichés, but my accompanying friends immediately dismissed the film as illogical and lacking any serious impact. I have spent the years since defending my fascination with the story of Dr. Sebastian Caine (Kevin Bacon), a brilliant scientist whose level of egotism has evolved into a potent god complex. Caine has developed a serum that renders living creatures totally invisible, but he hasn’t been successful in reversing the process. And the longer an animal remains invisible, the more aggressive and violent it becomes.
As HOLLOW MAN begins Dr. Caine has finally “cracked reversion” and invites his employees down into their vast underground laboratory to test the reversion process on an invisible primate. Although the reversion is a success, Caine is hesitant to inform the military advisors who provide his grant money, deciding instead to secretly dive right into human testing…….and volunteering himself as the first human test subject.
But Caine is truly a jackass and once he’s rendered invisible he rapidly grows more aggressive, sneaking around the lab and peeking into blouses, pulling the occasional Michael Vick body slam on invisible dogs that get on his nerves, and finally turning to murder in an attempt to quell his intensifying control issues. HOLLOW MAN ends with a bloody underground stand-off that is swimming in enough gory hyperbole to make up for the lack of tension and abundance of pretend movie science. In fact, the bogus scientific dialogue in HOLLOW MAN is one of its greatest flaws; time and again, the perfectly awesome special effects are almost ruined by bullshit talk about radioactive isotopes and vectors and what have you. It’s a movie about the invisible man, not stem cell research, but that doesn’t stop the actors from happily barking out lines packed with dubious scientific babble that seem to indicate that its all very real, and that it should be taken very, very seriously.
The transformation scenes in HOLLOW MAN are brilliantly rendered, and the movie finds its exploitation roots under the touch of director Paul Verhoeven (BASIC INSTINCT, TOTAL RECALL), a man who is constantly exploring the perversions of his audience by putting the gore, boobs, and misogyny right there in the center of the frame and waiting for a reaction. Verhoeven received a fairly strong reaction for the rape scene he shot for HOLLOW MAN, as test audiences found it unpleasant and it was eventually cut from the theatrical version. This scene was included in the “Deleted Scenes” portion of the HOLLOW MAN: SPECIAL EDITION DVD, but it has been added back into the film along with two other scenes and released as HOLLOW MAN: DIRECTOR’S CUT on DVD and Blu-Ray. Although the mere seconds of rape footage are indeed unpleasant, the scene DOES more readily establish the evil intents of Dr. Caine, an almost likable character who doesn’t begin any true villainy until after the first hour.
HOLLOW MAN ranks up there with Verhoeven’s best, a slightly mean-spirited but thoroughly enjoyable romp through the world of mad, bloody, exceedingly preposterous science. Some may point fingers and giggle at its silly script, but I will defend the sheer entertainment value of HOLLOW MAN until the day I die.