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Remembering Hollow Man 2, the Movie that Made Christian Slater Disappear
Kevin Bacon made this invisible mess… Now it’s Christian Slater’s turn to wallow in it.
When the invisible main character in your invisible-man movie also happens to be its highest-profile star, you’ve kind of got a built-in marketing problem. It’s the sort of challenge that director Paul Verhoven solved in 2000’s Hollow Man by introducing viewers early (and often) to Kevin Bacon’s sociopathic, science genius anti-hero, Dr. Sebastian Caine. By the time Caine got the chance to try his lab-crafted disappearing serum on himself, Hollow Man audiences already had gotten plenty of good looks at the guy… and understood instinctively that they weren’t meant to like what they saw.
Oddly, the same can’t be said of Hollow Man 2 (streaming here on Peacock) and Christian Slater, its headlining star. Set in the same lore-verse of horror established by original Hollow Man story creators Andrew W. Marlowe and Gary Scott Thompson, the 2006 followup was set in the not-too-distant aftermath of the first film’s disastrous outcome, while simultaneously serving as a direct-to-video standalone sequel.
For its starting point, Hollow Man 2 exhumed the buried remains of its predecessor’s scary sci-fi horror premise. Dr. Caine’s supposedly scuttled experimental invisibility project, in the years since the first film’s ending, had proven too irresistible to ignore for the most secretive back-room dealers who manage from the shadows the highly-classified marriage of cutting-edge research and U.S. Military supremacy. Duly beguiled by the idea that Caine’s abandoned invisibility serum might yet be perfected, big-money medicine and the U.S. Department of Defense team up in Hollow Man 2 to stealthily revive the supposedly-dead project, all in the hope of creating an invisible class of super-soldiers before the rest of the world has a chance to catch up.
Hollow Man 2: The movie that made Christian Slater disappear
Make no mistake, Slater does have plenty to do throughout Hollow Man 2… though nearly all of it involves being heard and not seen. His surprisingly menacing, deep-voiced, and wide-ranging vocal turn almost makes up for the fact that director Claudio Fäh (best known for helming a pair of sequels in the Sniper movie franchise) chooses to leave Slater’s physical character — an ex-soldier named Michael Griffin — almost entirely to the audience’s imagination. Technically, he’s right in the thick of plenty of Hollow Man 2’s scenes, sure enough. But his presence, though always implied through clever environmental cues (and a growing pile of bodies), stubbornly remains ephemeral.
Like Bacon’s demented Hollow Man doctor, Slater’s character is a bad guy through and through, using his recently-acquired powers as one of a new batch of disposable-soldier serum test subjects to more or less fly the Department of Defense’s highly-supervised research coop. Thanks to his need for an elusive “buffer” injection that subdues the serum’s lethal side effects, Griffin’s a biological ticking time bomb who’s got to surface at some point if he wants to stay alive. But his reason for living is pretty bleak in the first place: All he really wants to do is lam it up as a highly-prized invisible fugitive, using his no-see-um abilities to rip through society on a wicked wish-fulfillment terror spree.
Without Slater onscreen for most of the movie, it’s up to the film’s other two leading actors to pull more than their share of the weight. And though the script doesn’t exactly hand them the best (or, often, even the most logical) dialogue to work with, Peter Facinelli (an alum of Showtime’s Nurse Jackie and the Twilight movie franchise) and Laura Regan (Mad Men, Saving Jessica Lynch, the Minority Report TV series) somehow manage — almost — to do it.
Regan plays brainiac researcher Maggie, the scientist responsible for creating the “buffer” formula that Slater’s invisible baddie can’t live without. That makes her his ultimate target, setting off the movie’s cat-and-mouse story as she and detective Frank Turner (Facinelli) form an unlikely, necessity-bound partnership and go rogue together — not only to stay one step ahead of Griffin, but to elude the government powers that be, who’ve decided (alongside a shady, string-pulling medical company boss) that they both know too much.
Facinelli’s likable, instinct-driven detective, in particular, keeps Hollow Man 2 feeling fresh when its by-the-numbers story otherwise would’ve staled out. With a better story and a livelier, more thoughtful script, in fact, all three of the movie’s lead actors could’ve elevated a Hollow Man sequel at least to the engaging, character-driven expectations set by Verhoven’s original film — instead of enticing people to stay tuned in for what amounts to an extended scare-chase sequence that essentially follows a TV episode-of-the-week formula.
Hollow Man 2 at least looks snazzy, with a pretty spectacular early set piece that gets the story rolling and special effects throughout that benefit from the six-year tech-advancement gap that separates the movie from its 2000 predecessor. And, toward the end, we finally do get to see a bit more of Slater’s flesh-and-blood character — though by then, alas, it almost feels like we’re witnessing a guest appearance.
Aside from a small handful of brief glimpses earlier on (and we’re talking mere seconds, mind you), those fateful closing moments mark the only real quality time we get to spend in Griffin’s actual face-to-face presence. But by that point, we’re mostly trained on hating this jerk’s villainous-but-familiar voice than on reacting to anything we see. We’ve got to hand it to Slater and his AAA video game-worthy vocal turn, though: Even when he’s invisible, he definitely sounds like one killer of a final boss.
Stream Hollow Man 2 here on Peacock, and stick around if you’re in the mood for a double-feature dose of invisibility: Bacon’s slithery turn in the original Hollow Man is also streaming on Peacock here.