The film's greatest virtue is, undoubtedly, its special effects. These are, almost without exception, genuinely stunning. The moments in which an invisible gorilla is made visible and a similarly unseeable Sebastian is made partly seeable are sure to fascinate nearly any viewer. The director, at the beginning of each of these sequences, shows a glowing liquid being injected into each of these characters, which then flows through his transparent circulatory system, revealing a bodiless network of arteries and veins. Within this tangled mass, bones soon appear. Then, around these, organs and tissues become visible. The effect really is amazing, as is that achieved when the opposite procedure is performed on Sebastian, who, at that time, is made to vanish, layer by layer. None of the movie's other special effects are as well realized as are these, but there is hardly one that is not likely, at the least, to intrigue the viewer. For example, the times when clouds of smoke or sheets of water are given shape by Sebastian's face, if not inspired, are still nicely done.
The story Verhoeven tells, sadly, is not nearly as impressive as are these magical images. It is not ineptly related, but it is never memorable either. Much of Hollow Man consists of depictions of the experiments the characters are conducting or the effects of those experiments. The majority of such scenes exist not so much to relate a narrative but to provide excuses for one or another of the movie's special effects. Those scenes that do advance the story are, however, so clumsily or unimaginatively done that the viewer will probably be waiting for them to end so that he will have another opportunity to see Sebastian's body appearing or vanishing or to watch the invisible character interacting with the visible world. That said, the movie really exists for just such moments and does generally present them effectively.
The persons around whom these events revolve neither significantly add to nor detract from their appeal. The supporting characters are either likeable nonentities or merely nonentities. Even Sebastian, though reasonably well depicted, is not going to make much of an impression on many viewers. From Hollow Man's beginning, he is revealed as an unpleasant, arrogant individual, but, once he has become invisible and whatever constraints might have prevented him from giving in to his baser impulses are removed, he soon degenerates into a complete psychopath. He rapes his attractive neighbor, spies on his former girlfriend, murders a dog, and kills as many of his co-workers as he can. Regrettably, as intriguing as his descent into such behavior could have been, since the viewer is not allowed to understand the character, it is never really captivating. In fact, Verhoeven does not make it clear whether Sebastian's madness is a side effect of the treatment that has rendered him invisible or if it is a result of his succumbing to the temptation to live out some of his antisocial fantasies.
Even the action sequences which dominate the film's conclusion are not sufficiently well done for them to compensate for Hollow Man's other weaknesses. Most borrow so heavily from other movies, such as Ridley Scott's Alien, or make use of so many stereotyped conventions, such as the monster that keeps coming back for yet another sneaky assault after it has apparently been killed, that they are never wildly exciting. They are, nonetheless, visually well realized and usually entertaining.
I should also note that the movie is not generally helped by the quality of the actors' performances. Elisabeth Shue and Josh Brolin, who plays her boyfriend and colleague, are consistently dull and uninteresting to watch, and the various supporting players are even more boring than they are. Kevin Bacon does, however, give such a wonderfully hammy performance as an egocentric, increasingly deranged scientist that he is actually entertaining.
While Hollow Man is hardly a successful film, its often incredible special effects are likely to awe the viewer and do actually make the movie worth seeing. Unfortunately, they are virtually the only part of the film that is enjoyable.
Review by Keith Allen
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