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Hollow Man (2000) 
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Cast: Elisabeth Shue, Kevin Bacon, Josh Brolin, Kim Dickens, Greg Grunberg

Continuing our discussion of the various types of awful movies (see last week's review of Nutty Professor 2 and What Lies Beneath), we now turn our attention to films that have interesting facets and qualities but are so overwhelmed by stupidity and depravity as to be practically unwatchable. Our primary example for this week is Hollow Man, another vile and loathsome picture from director Paul Verhoeven (Showgirls).

Hollow Man is a contemporary adaptation of the Invisible Man story. Like many of this summer's blockbusters, the focus is on futuristic science and its effect on human biology. As I watched the very stylish opening credit sequence (courtesy of The Picture Mill), I wondered if this obsession with identity was a result of the great leap forward in DNA research, a continuation of millennial anxiety, a reaction to our post-pc society, or a combination of the three. That was the last intelligent thought Hollow Man inspired.

Instead of exploring extremely pertinent issues like the transformation of the body and its effect on human identity, screenwriter Andrew Marlowe (End of Days) is much more interested in what a 30-something man would do if he were invisible. I don't know what you'd do, but Marlowe and Verhoeven would sneak into beautiful women's apartments and molest them; they'd eavesdrop on conversations and then go berserk when people spoke badly about them; and, as time went on, they'd start viciously killing as many people as possible.

Now in subtler hands, this could indeed be a commentary on the true nature of man (fallen, indeed), but for Verhoeven it's merely an excuse to indulge his obsession with human dismemberment; and there is no better word than 'obsession.' I walked out of Robocop many years ago because of Verhoeven's obvious glee in torturing his characters. Starship Troopers, a genuinely funny satire, was almost ruined by the preponderance of gore when the bugs overran the human armies. In Hollow Man, it reaches truly awful proportions.

The following are the ways in which people die in Hollow Man: one is brutally strangled with a wire, another is hung from a pipe until his neck is almost sliced in half, one is impaled on a sharp metal pole, one is beaten with a crowbar until blood splatters everywhere, one has her neck broken and, since that's not brutal enough, has her body used as a towel to wipe the blood off someone's hands. Finally, one person is beaten with a crowbar, electrocuted, and tossed into a raging fire. That doesn't even count the opening sequence when we see a rat squeezed so hard that it literally explodes or a later scene when a dog is violently thrown against a wall, leading to the inevitable splattering blood.

This overwhelming violence, however, isn't the most exploitive thing in the movie. No, that prize goes to Hollow Man's treatment of women. There are only four female characters in the movie. Three of them have the privilege of being disrobed by Sebastian (the Invisible Man), two while they're sleeping. And the camera doesn't quickly glance and then look away. Rather, it zooms in on the women's breasts and crotch and then lingers, treating this sequence as a voyeuristic opportunity instead of the violation that it is. The movie isn't satisfied with portraying what an invisible man might do, but it has to implicate us in its own filth, as if there was something admirable about spreading a whole bucket of feces and then forcing someone's nose in it. The lowlight comes when Sebastian sucks on a woman's breast while she's asleep. It makes for an interesting special effect, and it feels like you're watching a rape.

And I'm sorry to digress, but when did it become acceptable to take 8-, 9-, and 10-year-old children to hard-R rated movies? For the second time in three weeks, I was watching a movie that made *me* uncomfortable only to be surrounded (and I do mean surrounded) by kids who were closer to diapers than shaving. And it wasn't like they snuck in; they were sitting with their parents! I realize that some R-rated movies have that distinction because of a few particular swear words, but it doesn't take a literary critic to know that Hollow Man wasn't going to be appropriate fare for the children. Parents, I don't give a rat's ass that you can't find a baby-sitter; you have a responsibility to your children to protect them from the filth that Hollywood seems to be shoveling these days. I'm no Jerry Falwell, but that's common sense, folks.

I mentioned in the opening paragraph that Hollow Man has some commendable parts. Kevin Bacon, who plays our Invisible Man, gives his usual solid performance, at least before he becomes invisible (afterwards, he's just doing a voice-over). More significantly, though, the special effects are both fabulous to behold and, more impressively, integral to the story. The sequences when invisible characters become visible again are genuinely amazing, and I never got tired of seeing Sebastian suddenly appear when he walked through liquid or smoke.

All of this, however, is overshadowed by the story, itself. Even if exploitive violence and sex doesn't bother you, the final 45 minutes will have you shaking your head in disbelief. The secondary actors (Elizabeth Shue, Josh Brolin, and Joey Slotnik) handle their parts adequately in the movie's first half but collapse once they have to interact with something that isn't there or express the slightest bit of fright. Shue, who made her mark in Leaving Las Vegas, gives a surprisingly bad performance as Sebastian's old girlfriend who stands up to him at the end. And Kim Dickens, playing a "renowned veterinarian," is clearly in over her head. 

They're not helped at all by the movie's dialogue which provoked almost continuous hoots of laughter in the screening I attended. The less said about the movie's painfully protracted ending, the better. Let's just say it makes last year's The Haunting look positively inspired. Hollow Man is vile, offensive, and stupid. If I had to choose between watching Hollow Man again and watching Nutty Professor 2 a dozen more times, I'd choose Eddie Murphy without hesitation.

J. Robert Parks


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