Hollow Man

The concept behind “Hollow Man,” summarized in its tagline — “It’s amazing what you can do when you don’t have to look at yourself anymore” — is an excitingly creepy one. We’re used to invisible men being good guys, generally, trying to reverse whatever it is that made them disappear. But what if an invisible guy used his powers for evil, not good? An unseen menace is always more scary than a seen one.

Unfortunately, the unseen menace behind “Hollow Man” is director Paul Verhoeven, whose ham-fisted, exploitative style — the man will show us naked breasts any chance he gets — oozes through this film the same way it seeped into his last four (“Total Recall,” “Basic Instinct,” “Showgirls” and “Starship Troopers”). Sharing the blame is screenwriter Andrew W. Marlowe (last year’s stupid “End of Days” and 1997’s good-only-because-of-Harrison-Ford “Air Force One”), whom we’ll lambaste momentarily.

Watch as nearly all the possible ways this film COULD have been good disappear one by one.

– By providing insight into human nature. What would YOU do if you were invisible? Watch naked people? Steal? Fight crime? The movie makes it clear that the invisible man in question — scientist Sebastian Caine (Kevin Bacon), working on a top-secret Pentagon-approved project — is different from most people, and that the bad things he does are a result of his already being a self-centered, arrogant creep who likes to play God. He isn’t “most people”; he’s himself, and no one else. Therefore, questions about what “most people” would do are sidestepped. Poof! No insight.

– By scaring us. Sebastian is certainly creepy as an invisible guy; the problem is, he’s not invisible often enough. His team of researchers, who are trying to figure out why they can’t make him visible again (it worked when they tried it on a gorilla, after all, and anyone who saw the shower scene in “Wild Things” knows Kevin Bacon isn’t all that different), put clothes on him, and even a rubber mask over his head. So even when he’s invisible, we can see him. When he ditches the get-up and runs around naked, it seems he’s almost always getting wet, or walking into a wall of steam, thus making him visible to us again. He’s no longer an eerie, unseen villain; he’s just a transparent naked guy, whacking people in the head with crowbars. Abracadabra, no scary!

– By being creative. Here’s where screenwriter Marlowe gets his due: The dialogue in this film is pure generic drivel. Sebastian is kept by his team from leaving the lab due to his unusual condition, and he starts to go stir crazy. Then he goes REAL crazy after learning his ex-girlfriend/assistant Linda (Elisabeth Shue) is shacking up with fellow researcher Matt (Josh Brolin). That’s when he snaps and utters the following: “I’ll show them!”

“I’ll show them”? Who is he, Lex Luthor?

And that’s just the dialogue (which is generally bad, not just in that one instance). The characters are ill-defined, and Sebastian’s actions are simply unmotivated. Yeah, he’s unethical and maybe slightly evil. But is being cooped up in a lab for a couple weeks enough to make a man become murderous? Maybe it is, but you’ll have to show us more of the guy’s thought process before we’re going to buy it. It’s as though Marlowe knew Sebastian had to start killing people at some point, and he couldn’t figure out how to get there, so he just made it happen, hoping a good director would somehow make it work. And then he got stuck with Verhoeven.

(And back to Verhoeven: The number of women in this movie who are groped or otherwise assaulted by an invisible pervert is uncountable. Well, OK, I did count, and it’s three. But that’s a lot, especially when the pervert’s main obsession happens to be bosoms, the same as the film’s director’s.)

– With dynamic acting. Forget it. Bacon is two-dimensionally slimy; Shue and Brolin just run around and say their lines; and I’ve forgotten everyone else’s names already, and I just saw the movie an hour ago.

– With cool special effects. OK, the effects are amazing. The disappearing and reappearing scenes are spectacularly thrilling, and everything done by invisible people and animals looks as real as it can get. But if the special effects are the best thing about your movie, you’ve got yourself a bad movie.

It’s not painfully bad. For the first half of it, you still hope it’s going to turn out well. But when the climax is the same as the climax in every other psycho-killer movie, right down to the last “Hey, we thought you were dead!” moment, it’s time to give up and hope someone, someday, can turn this premise into something genuinely exciting.

C (; R, abundant profanity, male and female nudity, graphic violence and blood, sexuality.)