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Friday, December 10, 2010

Friday Film Buff: Transparency

I think that part of being a film buff is recognizing the good in a bad movie, and I don't mean unintentional campiness, or "so bad it's good." I mean looking at a movie that somewhere went off the tracks in spite of the talent involved.
One such film is 1992's Memoirs of an Invisible Man, directed by John Carpenter and starring Chevy Chase.
I was looking forward to this film as I was a fan of Chevy Chase, and this - from all I had read - was going to be a real departure for him: a straight leading man action role. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed his comic-action-hero portrayals in the Fletch films and Spies Like Us, but I had always believed that he possessed more range as an actor, and I was anxious to see him show it.

I was a little disappointed when the trailer came out, but I understood that the studio was trying to reach the broadest base: people who were looking for a funny Chevy Chase. They had edited the trailer to make it look like a different movie and appeal to that potential audience. It actually happens a lot. And it's pretty easy to do.
I still had high hopes for the film, and, for the first half hour or so, it was everything I hoped it would be. There were comic elements, but nothing particularly out of character for an action film.
Chevy Chase was witty but not goofy, his baritone voice-over narration well-suited to the dramatic tone of the events. I was elated.
"Holly Hunter's a mute? And there's a piano?
Sure, I'll take a look at the script."
Then things started to unravel a bit. It became very apparent that John Carpenter was having a little too much fun with the special effects. The effects are great, mind you, but some sequences - like the scene in the trailer with the jogging suit with no jogger heading down the beach - were out of character for the protagonist and contrary to the plot. Also seen in the trailer is one of the rather overt "winks" at the original Invisible Man film.
By "overt," I mean that Carpenter made an allusion to the old film, pointed out that he had made an allusion, checked to make sure that we saw he'd made an allusion, then made the allusion once more for everyone who missed it. At times, it got to be a bit too much.
Chase was very good at portraying the loneliness and fear of invisibility - an important element from H.F. Saint's 1987 novel on which the film is based - but the added dream sequences employed slapstick to convey the same idea, and greatly detracted from the drama.
"This is my serious face."
That having been said, there is still a lot of good in this film. Chase is terrific. Unfortunately, because this film was not well-received, it marked the beginning of the end for his career as a leading man (comic or otherwise) and it was the last time he attempted to play it straight until a memorable appearance on Law & Order in 2006. (One could argue that his role in Man of the House (1995) was not strictly comical, but his character's alias was "Squatting Dog.")
Daryl Hannah - of whom I am not a fan - is also surprisingly good in this film, even more so when you realize that she was acting to empty space. Two of my favorites, Michael McKean and Stephen Tobolowsky, are there, too (if a bit under-utilized), and Sam Neill is devilishly good as Chase's unscrupulous pursuer.
And, as I said, the special effects are pretty impressive.
I wouldn't necessarily advocate that you go out right now and add it to your Blu-Ray collection, but, if it comes on cable some night, I'd say give it a look. Who knows? You might even be more forgiving of it than I am.

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