Sebastian Caine (Kevin Bacon) is a scientist investigating the possibility of invisibility in humans, and is working at a top secret lab where he and his team have managed to carry out successful experiments with animals. The trouble is, while they can turn the test subjects invisible, they cannot reverse the process - that is until Sebastian is up late one night in his apartment and tears his attention away from spying on his neighbour across the way to be hit with inspiration. He calls his chief associate Linda McKay (Elisabeth Shue) to tell her he has a stable serum, and the next thing to do is administer it to their largest patient: a gorilla.
Invisible gorilla would be a great name for a band if it isn't already, but Hollow Man was not quite as great as fans of director Paul Verhoeven might have hoped for. On its release, it was generally regarded as a step backward from the director who made his name pushing buttons and testing censorship boundaries, for what he had here was an update of the old H.G. Wells concept of a deranged and transparent scientist for the turn of the millennium, except Wells had done it better. There was a mood of being cheated among the reactions, as if they had been fooled into hoping for a serious examination of science and ended up with a cheap slasher movie.
Well, maybe not so cheap, but it was true Verhoeven's accustomed intelligence and humour was harder to discern than in some of his bigger successes. However, if approached in the right frame of mind that essentially what you got was a special effects showcase coupled to a basic horror movie mad scientist plot, it was possible to be amused by Hollow Man as a pure thrill ride shaded with upper level nastiness. This was the director's superhero movie at a time when the genre was undergoing a renaissance, only he saw the introduction of incredible powers to all too fallible mankind as more of a curse - not necessarily to the individual with the abilities, but to those who had to put up with him.
We can already tell Sebastian is not to be trusted when at the very beginning we see him spying on his neighbour, and he goes on to live down to our expectations once he persuades his colleagues to inject him with the special serum. This is the cue for a marvel of CGI as he turns invisible bit by bit, all the while struggling in pain, but as we've already seen the opposite happening with the gorilla, perhaps it's not quite as startling as it might have been. Still, it is impressive, and also sets the stage for Sebastian beginning to mess with people's heads, starting off with bad-tempered assistant Sarah (Kim Dickens) who he sexually harrasses while she sleeps, but gets away with it because he cannot be seen without hi-tech goggles or cameras.
Before long the villain has a rubber mask to wear so he can escape the confines of the lab and spread mayhem as the serum affects his faculties and he goes completely insane, even raping that neighbour he was lusting after, and setting out to kill all those in his way. You can see why Verhoeven was attracted to the story of a man whose newfound advantages over everyone else cause him to reject his moral responsibilities, but alas about as far as that goes are those scenes where Sebastian becomes a monster, and nothing more intellectual than this is mined. Once it reaches the last act, he may as well be Jason Vorhees for all the good he does, or maybe Wile E. Coyote in light of the amount of traps he sets around the lab only to be foiled time and again, yet proving himself near-invincible no matter what is thrown at him. But if you were sympathetic to the conventions of slashers, it was entertaining as far as that went, that being a lot of money thrown at something pretty tawdry. Music by Jerry Goldsmith.
Verhoeven's sharp sense of humour tempers his over-the-top style, but he frequently sails too close to being ridiculous for many to take him seriously. The war drama Black Book, filmed in his native Holland, raised his standing once more.