Do special effects make a movie? Or, more to the point, can they --however brilliantly conceived and seamlessly executed-- SAVE a movie? I couldn't shake these questions while leaving the theatre after seeing "Hollow Man".
The questions arise from the arbitrary way the story and its central character were developed, which leads to a certain disappointment, a promise not achieved, the inevitable description of the movie itself as "Hollow Film".
Dr. Sebastian Caine (Kevin Bacon), through a brilliant insight, realizes how to return a gorilla, previously rendered invisible, back to visibility. He soon has his secret lab, working under the aegis of the Pentagon, at work making it happen. It's a breakthrough which he does not report to his superior, Dr. Howard Kramer (William Devane) for fear of losing control and missing the opportunity to take the mission to phase 3.
Phase 3 is the application of the procedure to a human. And who does the good doctor choose as his first human guinea pig... why himself, of course. His lab team, headed by his ex-girlfriend, the sexy Dr. Linda Kay (Elizabeth Shue), still recovering from Caine's failure to report the team's success so far, is adamently opposed to such self-experimentation, but the boss prevails and he becomes the first invisible man.
Unfortunately, however, the regression technique, successful with the gorilla, doesn't quite return him to visibility. As the team desperately tries one formula modification after another, Caine faces the reality of life as an invisible. Soon, he begins to weigh the benefits of it as offering greater desirability than the usual state where everyone knows where you are. And this is where the story line breaks down.
Gary Scott Thompson and Andrew W. Marlowe (co-writers) and director Paul Verhoeven ("Total Recall", "Starship Troopers", "Showgirls", "Basic Instinct") decide to take this movie down the horror thriller path. Too bad. It probably leads to greater box office potential, but it might have been a much better film for those of us who are more fascinated by unique character development than pandering for big receipts.
Instead we get the usual horror fare of superhuman strength, return from certain death, villain omniscience, etc., etc. Pretty disappointing from this filmaking team.
What's not disappointing are the digital effects referred to above. After exhausting the possibilities in planetary adventures, car crashes, explosions, fires, storms, twisters, aeronautic naughtiness and the like, this digital teams comes up with rendering a gorilla and a human invisible and then back again. How it looks might've been inspired by medical posters illustrating body parts, layer by layer, organ by organ. Here's a film that's a must see for medical students and young interns. The breathtaking detail of it made me wonder which came first, the concept of the film or a demonstration of the effect by the digital team. In any case, good job! It's worthy of an award in the effects category -- and I don't mean a mere nomination.
But... while they are a valid reason to see the film, the effects really don't save the failures of the story.
For "Felicity" fans, it's interesting to see Greg Grunberg in a role that's different from his Sean Blumberg character on the series. Not all that different, but he's a nice addition to this cast as one of the supporting lab team members -- the one who goes against majority opinion until it's way too late.
Estimated cost: $95,000,000. Projected boxoffice: $85,000,000.
Rated B, for Below par.