Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5
USA/France, 1992. Warner Bros., Canal+, New Regency Productions, Alcor Films, Cornelius Productions. Screenplay by Robert Collector, Dana Olsen, William Goldman, based on the book H.F. Saint. Cinematography by William A. Fraker. Produced by Bruce Bodner, Dan Kolsrud. Music by Shirley Walker. Production Design by Lawrence G. Paull. Costume Design by Joe I. Tompkins. Film Editing by Marion Rothman.
It’s always a film watcher’s intention to see a movie solely for the merits it possesses on screen and leave the knowledge of its sordid production history as interesting background information, but every once in a while you watch a movie after having read enough about its nightmarish off-screen woes and find it impossible not to see these difficulties in the finished product. Such is the case with John Carpenter’s return to studio filmmaking after having suffered the unpleasant interference of executive nosiness on Big Trouble In Little China, agreeing to take on this project after leading man Chevy Chase argued with Ivan Reitman over the film’s intended comedic tone and the studio sided with its star.
Carpenter didn’t have much better luck with the famously temperamental actor, who reportedly interrupted expensive special effects takes because of the discomfort of the blue body stockings and contact lenses used to render him diaphanous as per the story’s requirements, and according to Carpenter’s own testimony, the film’s leading lady Daryl Hannah didn’t make things much easier.
All of this conflict, unfortunately, makes its way into the finished product, and what should have been a very satisfying update of the classic H.G. Wells plot (in this case adapted from a novel by H.F. Saint) is a fun and diverting adventure but a slightly dissatisfying one, thanks mainly to Chase never having settled the issue of comedic tone (it’s quite similar to Peter Sellers, another brilliant comedian with a healthy dark side, quitting Casino Royale over his desire that it not be a James Bond spoof but soothe his insecurities by being a sincere attempt at a spy film; in both cases the film lands in an awkward middle ground between caprice and egomania).
Chase plays a stockbroker who attends a presentation at a scientific research facility that is also one of his clients. Bored during the meeting, he takes a break to go nap in the bathroom when an accident occurs in the lab and machines and lasers go haywire, with Chase trapped in the crossfire of high-tech experimental weaponry that turns him into an invisible man (thankfully it also turns his clothing invisible as well, helping avoid a logical annoyance that plagues many film versions of this character).
This makes going to his job more difficult and keeping his date with the beautiful Hannah impossible, and just imagine how much more complicated his life becomes when he realizes that the shady operative running the top-secret project that is responsible for this situation (played by Sam Neill) is in pursuit of him.
Carpenter gets everything right in terms of a zippy pace and a refreshingly brisk introduction, the set-up for the transformation isn’t a long series of science experiments but doesn’t feel rushed or illogical either, while the special effects join Death Becomes Her the same year as the height of sophistication in computer-generated imagery (and possibly such effects haven’t been as beautiful since).
The lack of chemistry between the stars hurts the project, however, as is the lack of evidence that anyone with Carpenter’s kinky sense of violence or imagination ever came anywhere near the project, while the rushed third act and premature ending suggest that the final edit was taken out of his hands.
It’s a shame the film isn’t better considering that it has a lot of great elements being thrown into the mix, but it’s also not a waste of time or a bore, and its good qualities well overcompensate for its flaws enough to recommend it.