John Carpenter is one of those directors that I’ve always been slightly on the fence about. There are unquestionably a couple of his earlier films that I like a whole heck of a lot, but at the same time there’s not one that I could honestly say I truly love, in the same way that I love Inferno, or Bride of Frankenstein for example. Despite this, I’m always willing to watch one of his films, because I’ve yet to find a single one that I didn’t like & have a good ol’ couple of hours with. However, I’ve not yet seen all of his mid-90s output, & Memoirs of an Invisible Man was completely new to me when the DVD popped through my letterbox yesterday. Whilst it hasn’t yet broken either of the JC precedents, it comes dangerously close to falling foul of the latter.
Nick Holloway (um, Chevy Chase) is a stock analyst who tries to sleep off a major hangover at the same time as a nuclear accident causes the building he’s in to turn invisible (yup, a mere cup of coffee on the keyboard & the whole computer room explodes). Everyone else escapes OK, but Nick is turned invisible – something which makes him very valuable to dangerous Government Agent Jenkins (Sam Neill). Evading capture, Nick turns to help from Alice (Daryl Hannah), the beautiful blonde he met the night before.
“Memoirs of an Invisible Man” is unquestionably the most mainstream & anonymous Carpenter film I have yet seen. Had I not read the credits, I would never have known who directed it, & for my money that’s a real shame. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make a film that will be commercially successful, but unfortunately in this case Carpenter’s signature style has been neutered into something so bland & generic that it borders on being pointlessly ineffective. However, look closely & you’ll notice some elegant widescreen framing, cracking tracking shots, & a general fun b-movie vibe that is typical of his work.
One of the big problems with the film for me is simply that Chevy Chase is in it. Now, I know he has his fans & fair play to them, but I’m not one of them. His performance is so dull & uninteresting that even when he’s visible, he’s almost not there. This does border on being an actual idea in the film, but the problem is that he’s totally ineffectual as a dramatic hero, & it’s hard to root for him. This wouldn’t be too much of a problem if he was being funny in it, but the jokes are few & far between & there’s nothing special about Chase’s delivery to elevate it above the level of the script. Daryl Hannah is an acceptable romantic lead, even though she’s only in half of the film, but the best performance comes from the deliciously slimy Sam Neill, who seems to be having far more fun than anyone else.
It’s not a complete disaster however, although it must be noted that the films’ greatest success comes with its special effects. Building on the work done in The Abyss & T2, ILM do some great CG work that marked a new level of achievement at the time, & often still looks good today. In addition, the script does take enough time to raise a couple of interesting thoughts, notably in the conclusively sexual relationship between Nick & Alice, although it doesn’t tend to go anywhere once it’s come up with the idea. The main thrust of the narrative continually moves along depressingly predictable & routine lines, & surprisingly the tension is quite slack. There are a couple of OK set pieces, but it’s more like small sparks rather than the fireworks Carpenter is capable of. Perhaps it was hoped that the audiences of the time would be so impressed by the effect that they’d overlook everything else – but if the box office is anything to go by, they were wrong. Memoirs is an entertaining enough diversion for an hour & a half, it’s hard to escape the feeling that this is a comedy thriller that is neither particularly funny, nor particularly thrilling. Chevy Chase fans will probably enjoy it, but for Carpenter fans it’s really one for the completists only. If you want a flawed CG-age invisible man film, I’d take Hollow Man any day of the week.
The UK DVD from Warner Home Video comes in R2/PAL format, with a quality 2.40:1 anamorphic transfer. Sadly, audio is Dolby 2.0 only, but within that limitation, this is a good, solid & clear track. You also get 2.0 dubs in French & Italian, plus a whole shed-load of subtitles. For extras, there’s about 3 minutes of deleted scenes & outtakes, a superficial but interesting 5-minute effects featurette, plus a list of the case & crew. And that’s it, not even a trailer. On the plus side, this is a film that I probably wouldn’t bother too much with any extra features if they were provided, but it does seem like just trying to get something to put on the box to look good, & it lacks any real meat. Still, a cheap price tag means that the time is right if you’ve got a Carpenter collection needing feeding.