Who’s Afraid Of Kevin Bacon? … A Cast Digs Its Own Grave

Who’s Afraid Of Kevin Bacon?

“Power corrupts” is a tired theme that is not necessarily restricted to political yawns in Philadelphia. It’s kept scriptwriters burning the midnight oil for decades, and here it is again in Hollow Man , a poundingly violent though flatly familiar science-fiction yarn derived from the Invisible Man flicks of a bygone era. Directed by Paul Verhoeven, the mad brain behind such idiotic time-wasters as Robocop and Starship Troopers and such erotic trash as Showgirls , it’s got enough special effects aimed at 12-year-olds and filthy sex jokes aimed at horny thirtysomethings to make a big summer noise at the box office. But despite an all-points-bulletin performance of enviable dexterity and guts by Kevin Bacon, and enough bared female breasts to keep the prigs oinking, Hollow Man has a plot as synthetic and transparent as the leading character.

The movie begins with a close-up of a rat chomped into ratburger by invisible fangs, and never pauses to take a breath from that scene on, building horror upon horror with predictable results. Mr. Bacon stars as a brilliant molecular scientist who discovers a serum to make things invisible. Elisabeth Shue plays his sexy lab partner and former squeeze who knows from firsthand experience how egomaniacal and arrogant he can be. Her distrust, plus her new role in bed with another member of the research team (played by Josh Brolin, a dashingly handsome actor who is better known as Barbra Streisand’s stepson), guarantees a terrifying future at the hands of an evil genius-but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Mr. Bacon can make gorillas disappear, but the next phase is human testing. With Nobel Prizes and stuff dancing in his head, he disobeys orders from the Pentagon and volunteers to be the first guinea pig. In true Jekyll and Hyde fashion, the experiment goes horribly awry and cannot be reversed. So they cover him with a latex substance that looks like pink instant pudding, cut holes in it for eyes and a mouth, and wait. In time, Mr. Bacon, fueled by latent tendencies fertilized by a lifetime of watching Boris Karloff movies, digs his new transparent status so much that the women can’t sit on the toilet without wearing red thermal 3-D glasses to monitor his presence. “It’s amazing what you can do,” he cackles, “when you don’t have to look at yourself in the mirror anymore.” Before you can say “Read my lips,” he escapes from the research lab and wreaks havoc on Washington, D.C. So much for the plot.

The rest of the movie pits the insane “Hollow Man” against his entire research team as he hatches fiendish ways to kill them off, one by one. While Mr. Bacon rapes, pillages and murders at will, I found myself longing nostalgically for the predigital days of Claude Raines in the original Invisible Man . He was a fiend who at least showed some style. The actors play touchy-feely with objects that are not there, say things like “Quantum signatures stable,” and talk about “cellular bond instability” while exposing their buns and ta-tas. But Andrew Marlowe’s script, which seems to have been written by computer hackers on a rampage, never approaches the human factor. Most of the horror is restricted to the top-secret government research lab, which makes the film cold, clinical and claustrophobic instead of spooky and gothic. The hypodermic needles and vats of bubbling acid of Bela Lugosi’s mad-scientist programmers were creepier and more frightening than the high-tech control boards and hospital equipment behind glass you see here. Most of Hollow Man looks like it takes place in a recording studio for a Spice Girls video. Under the circumstances, the actors sweat for credibility like salt-mine slaves.

Gifted, versatile, but eternally boyish, Kevin Bacon is that rare breed of actor who actually improves with age. Now that he has finally grown some chest hair, I can’t wait to see what he looks like with wrinkles. For a beautiful woman with talent to spare, Elisabeth Shue has an obsession with bad hair styles and ugly, unflattering clothes, but she’s right up there with Sigourney Weaver when it comes to slugging it out with muscles in a world of male-dominated mayhem. You may lose count of the number of times she gets cracked in the jaw and knocked unconscious without so much as a nosebleed, but you gotta love her comic-book indestructibility. You have no idea what a foxy chick can do with a flamethrower.

A Cast Digs Its Own Grave

Some excellent but misguided people trash their talents in Better Living , a dismal debut fiasco by director Max Mayer described in the press handouts as “a comedy about families, the elements that bind them together, and about hope in the face of hardship.” It is, in fact, about nothing of the sort. It is, as far as I can see, about nothing at all.

Olympia Dukakis plays the mother of a dysfunctional family in some nameless New York suburb trying to cope in the absence of a lunatic father (Roy Scheider) who disappeared 15 years earlier without a trace. In and out of a house that looks like a demolition site wanders a morbid assortment of characters better suited to an experimental play staged in downtown Newark. The uncle (Edward Herrmann) is a drunken Catholic priest who has made cynicism a way of life. Daughter Gail (Wendy Hoopes) is sleeping with a motorcycle-riding moron who dreams of becoming a pop singer but seems to have a big future only in a life of crime. Daughter Elizabeth (Deborah Hedwall) is a public defender with temper tantrums who worked her way through law school as a prostitute. Daughter Maryann (Catherine Corpeny) is a weak manic-depressive who is so screwy she still hasn’t gotten around to giving her eight-month-old baby a name.

When the derelict father returns home unannounced, the only thing that keeps them out of the cracker factory is a family project-digging a tunnel through the cellar and dynamiting a hole in the backyard while living on 200 cans of stewed tomatoes. They get through the day (and the movie) with electric drills, chainsaws and an interminable amount of screaming hysterics guaranteed to drive you out of the theater with your hands over your ears. I guess it’s supposed to be a dark comedy, but there is nothing remotely funny about watching actors who have all been seen under more professional circumstances reduced to the status of amateurs. Confined within the walls of one set, this tedious maelstrom of madness is nothing more than a filmed stage play, and not a very good one, either. Even on a budget the size of an hour’s take at the popcorn stand, all Better Living does is underscore the need for caution when handing out money indiscriminately to first-time directors.

Margaret Cho’s Crackup

Filmed as a live 90-minute comedy act on a stage in her native San Francisco, I’m the One That I Want is a raucously funny showcase for one-woman show-business-survival instructor Margaret Cho. The star is an avowed lesbian performance artist, brilliant monologist, writer, actress, the first Asian-American to star in her own network TV sitcom, a sensation on the underground club circuit and self-proclaimed “Queen of the Fag Hags.” Candidly discussing the fast demise of her short-lived show All-American Girl , the subsequent depression that led to her slow descent into alcohol and drugs, the strength that drove her into rehab and the sense of humor that shaped her into one of America’s most popular comedians, Ms. Cho makes it clear that her raunchy brand of “heterophobic” comedy is not for every taste. (She would really have given the Republican convention something to pray about.) But she has pinchable cheeks like S.Z. (Cuddles) Sakall, a rosebud mouth, a body like the foothills of the Berkshires and an infectious honesty that turns audiences of all persuasions into cheering mobs of supportive fans.

You can’t resist her lament that, in a nation that celebrates everything else, there is still “no parade for Slut Pride” and “no such thing as a straight man with visible abdominal muscles.” Sharing her frustration over her inability to fit in, her addiction to diet pills, the pitfalls of trying to be what everyone else wants her to be, the hypocrisy of network television, the phoniness of a bogus Hollywood culture that pretends to be colorblind while enforcing ethnic stereotypes, and the paucity of jobs for minorities in the entertainment industry, she’s like a comrade in arms for Bruce Vilanch and Sandra Bernhard. Whether her targets are the Ku Klux Klan, her Korean mother, Karl Lagerfeld or Alcoholics Anonymous, she hits a bull’s-eye every time, and she’s absolutely adorable doing it.

In the end, she even leaves you with something to chew on: “The problem with not being yourself is that when you fail, you fail as somebody else.” The girl is not only one hot comedian, she’s one smart cookie, too.