From H.G. Wells' novel The Invisible Man through the Adam Rifkin soft-porn film The Invisible Maniac, there seems to be only one way to tell a story about invisibility: by exploring the notion that the ability to go unseen frees the invisible from adhering to any moral code. It's no longer the freshest take on the subject, but done right, it's adaptable to just about any setting. Done wrong, you have Hollow Man, a wit-deprived, thrill-light bit of science-fiction horror from director Paul Verhoeven (Starship Troopers, Showgirls, Basic Instinct). Kevin Bacon stars as an egotistical, leather-jacket-clad scientist who discovers the secret of invisibility—or, as the film calls it, the ability to phase-shift out of the visual dimension. Working with a crack team of scientists that includes ex-girlfriend Elisabeth Shue, Bacon makes himself the first human subject of the experiment, a decision that seems wise until he finds himself unable to become visible again. Left unchecked, Bacon begins utilizing his condition as any horny 12-year-old would, sneaking about and undressing women. But ultimately, as one character helpfully points out for the benefit of slower audience members, he snaps. That Bacon's psychological transformation from a jerk to a dangerous jerk is barely noticeable is a trademark Verhoeven joke, but it never grows teeth. The film has a nasty streak wide enough to include an implied rape and the abuse of invisible animals, but it's there simply for the sake of nastiness. Its boorish protagonist certainly doesn't stir up any sympathy, and Hollow Man doesn't get much help from his poorly developed, unconvincing colleagues/targets. Worse, though the film features flashes of Verhoeven's go-for-broke style, there's still no mistaking it for anything but hackwork on a budget. After a fairly compelling opening, it lapses into tedium before devolving into—oh, boy—another revisiting of Alien. The special effects look good, particularly in the various transformation scenes, but they feel like showboating, as if Verhoeven lingered on them because he had nothing else to show.
More from The A.V. Club