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Hollow Man: Kevin Bacon, Paul Verhoeven Riff on Invisible Man is Still Goofy, Gory, and Gleefully Great
Hollow Man, now streaming on Peacock, checked off all the items that lent Paul Verhoeven’s sci-fi spectacles their appeal.
For a hot decade or so beginning with 1987’s RoboCop, big-budget movies from director Paul Verhoeven gave the sci-fi box office a certain R-rated flair. Mature like Ridley Scott’s Alien franchise, yet silly and swashbuckling like their more family-friendly science fiction blockbuster counterparts from the 1980s, Verhoeven films like Total Recall (1990) and Starship Troopers (1997) tapped a huge adult movie audience — one that seems to have gone less acknowledged in recent years, with the advent of tamer connected sci-fi universes from Marvel, DC, and Lucasfilm.
It’s hard to believe, but 2000’s Hollow Man (stream it here on Peacock!) was the last of his English-language films before Verhoeven retreated — seemingly for good — to the European movie market. Now 84, he’s reportedly planning a return to American shores with Young Sinner, an in-development erotic political thriller set to re-team Verhoeven with RoboCop screenwriter Edward Neumeier.
Panned by contemporary critics but a hit at the box office, Hollow Man checked off all the items that lent Verhoeven’s sci-fi spectacles their goofy grown-up appeal. Kevin Bacon, Elisabeth Shue, and a pre-Thanos Josh Brolin gave the cast a huge injection of star power. Rude, crude jokes and sight gags kept the movie from tripping over its own weight. And there's oodles of bloody, gory violence combined with award-nominated special effects as Bacon’s lead character — a workaholic researcher too arrogant for his own good — transformed, one translucent blood vessel at a time, into a petulantly unhinged version of H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man.
The Invisible Man, in fact, served as the loose source material for Hollow Man’s story, penned by Castle series creator Andrew W. Marlowe. Driven by the sort of geeky tunnel vision that so often upends movie scientists’ view of the bigger picture, Bacon’s character (Dr. Sebastian Caine) loses his grip on research ethics as he realizes his invisibility serum — with himself as its first human recipient — is finally ready for prime time. His manic work addiction already has wrecked a past relationship with research team member Linda (Shue), even as Brolin’s less-brainy, but more socially-balanced team member (Dr. Matt Kensington) swoops in, with Sebastian none the wiser, to give Linda the attention she’s been lacking.
After some truly heart-racing special effect scenes on the let’s-get-invisible operating table, a transformed Sebastian — whom his colleagues now can only “see” with special infrared tech — quickly develops a crushing case of cabin fever, dispensing with the obligatory period of lab-confined close patient observation to go ducking out into public for a breath or two of fresh air.
Out in the wild, of course Sebastian's first instinct is to indulge his inner teenage voyeur, spying on an attractive next door neighbor in the shower in a genuinely unsettling moment that pushes his few remaining ethical qualms fully over the edge. From there, it’s off to spy on Linda to learn the true identity of her secret love interest (Brolin), a Peeping-Tom discovery that sends Sebastian’s already-ambiguous moral code straight out the window and well on the path toward full-scale vengeful bloody murder.
Critics didn’t like Hollow Man’s midway pivot from intriguing Invisible Man moral setup toward straight-up icky horror, but audiences at the time lapped up every gory drop. Against a reported production budget of $95 million, Hollow Man racked up more than $190 million worldwide, as fans bit on the idea of seeing Bacon unleashed in what remains one of the iconic actor’s most memorably villainous roles.
In hindsight, those turn-of-the-millennium critics probably didn’t know how good they actually had it. Though it’s smaller in scope and ambition than Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Martian liberation tour in Total Recall, there’s still no mistaking Hollow Man for anything other than a Paul Verhoeven movie — the kind of movie, in other words, that fans used to take for granted in a decade when big-budget R-rated sci-fi like James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Verhoeven’s own Starship Troopers routinely found a welcoming audience.
Goofy, gory, and gleefully grown-up in its appeal to the popcorn-munching kid hiding inside every adult, Hollow Man is streaming here on Peacock.