- The Washington Times - Friday, August 4, 2000

As defective as its title, "Hollow Man" fails to sustain clever updating of the "Invisible Man" pretext. It also fails to pass the Adam Sandler test.

Here's another project that would seem to make more sense as a Sandler farce, in part because it could accommodate a dual role: twerpy brainiac hero pitted against mad-genius antagonist on a self-destructive rampage.

Kevin Bacon gets stuck with the latter assignment only while cast as a Faustian smarty-pants called Sebastian Caine, boss of a seven-member research team that has perfected an invisibility serum at a secret military laboratory hidden underneath the Navy Yard in Washington.

To be precise, Sebastian has a one-way serum that seems to work. The dose achieves invisibility, although the process looks painful and could induce cardiac arrest in the early stages.

The return-trip serum remains imperfect in the extreme despite an apparent breakthrough with a lab animal that prompts a team member to boast, "He's cracked reversion." Not quite. Sebastian leaves himself in a dangerous state of elusiveness after he decides to become the first human test subject.

He brazenly deceives a government advisory council about this step, the ominous Phase 3 of his experiment.

Two colleagues who know better, Elisabeth Shue as Linda McKay and Josh Brolin as Matt Kensington (the brother-in-law of Austin Powers, perhaps?), clam up cravenly when Sebastian lies to his benefactors.

They have a secret of their own, calculated to fuel enmity in their leader: a love affair. Linda used to be Sebastian's girlfriend and is asking for trouble by continuing to date within the lab.

Sebastian's despotic tendencies are all too transparent from opening quips that joke about a godlike flair for invention. When Linda rejects a makeup kiss, there's little doubt that sexual jealousy will prove a sufficient motive for homicidal rage, which erupts big time during the finale.

Certain aspects of the updating take humorous advantage in ways that James Whale couldn't exploit in "The Invisible Man" of 1933, although there was no want of playfulness in that enduring classic. When still relatively harmless, an invisible Sebastian unbuttons the blouse of a slumbering colleague, Kim Dickens as forthright veterinarian Sara Kennedy.

The film displays some imaginative digital breakthroughs while illustrating the stages of invisibility. The test subjects, an ape and then Mr. Bacon, shed their skin soon after injection with the blue serum that starts the fadeaway process.

They become "Visible Man" props with the musculature, veins and interior organs conspicuously exposed. Then those fade to reveal the skeletal structure. Then comes complete disappearance, setting up diverting trick shots with such coverings as sheets or latex masks, with slots cut out for the eyes and mouth.

Water, steam and smoke reveal the outlines of the invisible Sebastian, and the wet look is especially effective. You begin to wonder about the feasibility of an invisible Tarzan, but I guess that wouldn't be fair to the crocodiles.

Even if one finds the movie a letdown, the computer programs designed to visualize the human anatomy in detail may prove useful in medical education.

"Hollow Man" could justify itself more in the classroom than the movie theater. The weak spot obviously is the screenplay, which settles for the most transparent character profile imaginable while brandishing Sebastian as a supergrotesque terror.

Anyway, Sebastian and his eventual victims all remain superficial to a fault. A Sebastian who commanded more affection within his team when normal would be a more compelling threat to their lives when he goes monstrous.

Although the production spent a great deal of time in Washington last summer, only the exteriors at the Navy Yard are scenically distinctive. The balance of the location shots might have been faked by stock footage or other cities after dark.

The whole cooped-up team needs to get out a little more. Their workplace begins to feel boxed in before Sebastian turns it into a shattered and flaming deathtrap.

One and 1/2 out of four stars

TITLE: "Hollow Man"

RATING: R (Occasional graphic violence, profanity and sexual candor; fleeting nudity; gruesome illustrative details)

CREDITS: Directed by Paul Verhoeven

RUNNING TIME: 114 minutes

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