'Hollow Man' plot is easy to overlook

Friday, August 4, 2000

The screenplay is almost as transparent as star Kevin Bacon, but let's not kid ourselves. You're not going to see "Hollow Man" to hear this invisible guy speak.

You're going for the full dose of the remarkable visual wizardry, chillingly showing Bacon vanish from skin to bone.

"Hollow Man," the latest sci-fi blood bath from director Paul Verhoeven ("Starship Troopers," "RoboCop"), is driven purely by its visceral special effects.

The plot is your basic invisibility-sends-narcissist-scientist-into-ego-overdrive story, with the ex-lover (Elisabeth Shue) working alongside him despite their rocky romantic history.

The dialogue and characters are largely incidental, except for the Invisible Mr. Bacon, represented for much of the movie by a digitized stand-in depicting the actor as a smoky phantom or a gruesome, skinless ghoul.

Bacon plays Sebastian Caine, a brilliant, vainglorious researcher who has discovered the secret of invisibility for a military project and makes himself the first human guinea pig. Trouble is, while Caine has found an antidote that restores invisible lab animals, the counteragent doesn't work on people.

Delusions of godhood overwhelm him. Caine mutinies against his fellow researchers, eradicating anyone with knowledge of the invisible man. Then he'll be free to do as he pleases.

There are vapid exchanges among the scientists, bland repartee between Caine and former lover Linda McKay (Shue), and a cookie-cutter romantic triangle involving her new boyfriend (Josh Brolin).

"Hollow Man" plays out much like a haunted-house story, with all the requisite oversights by the victims.

The mad-scientist story line is essentially the same as H.G. Wells' "The Invisible Man" and the 1933 Claude Rains classic, adapted from the novel by director James Whale. But oh, how far Hollywood special effects have come.

Visions of Caine covered in water, mist and blood are striking. The images of Caine vanishing and partly reappearing -- along with the similar rematerialization of an invisible gorilla -- absolutely dazzle.

The invisibility idea was ripe for a retread, but the movie ambles shallowly in Whale's wake, bringing little new to the concept other than visual fireworks.