Director John Carpenter, known mainly for his horror and action films like "Halloween," "Escape from New York," and "The Thing," would probably just as well forget about this one. Attempting to make 1992's "Memoirs of an Invisible Man" into a typical Carpenter thriller, he was apparently pressured by the studio to make it a romantic comedy. The result is neither.
Chevy Chase stars in what has to be the most relatively serious movie role of his career. Which may be part of the problem. As a comic actor, Chase is a counterpuncher; he's funny reacting to events, supplying a befuddled stare or a wiseass retort, rather than initiating things. But in "Memoirs" he has little to react to except his initial act of disappearing. After that, his laid-back style is expected to carry him through a fairly businesslike script that offers few opportunities for humorous responses. It leaves the actor flat.
The film is based largely on a 1987 book by H.F. Saint and loosely on the novel by H.G. Wells, although there is really little of the latter author's work here except the general concept and one brief scene. The movie tells the story in flashback of a San Francisco stockbroker, Nick Halloway (Chase), who, while visiting a scientific facility, accidentally gets zapped by some unknown radiation, rendering him invisible. There follows an adventure wherein a power-mad CIA assassin, David Jenkins (Sam Neill), will do anything to capture Nick and use him as a new intelligence asset and wherein a lovely young woman, Alice Monroe (Daryl Hannah), will do anything to save him from the dastardly government agents who are chasing him. Neill is especially good as the spy, and it reminds us why he was once considered for the role of James Bond.
The plot follows the same formula so well executed by Alfred Hitchcock in films like "The 39 Steps" and "North By Northwest," in which an innocent man is pursued by everybody and has nowhere to turn. Likewise, Carpenter had nowhere to turn. Either he didn't have the talent to exercise the subtle tongue-in-cheek attitude necessary to bring off the escapade, or he wasn't allowed to use his talent. Instead of a lightly romantic action caper, the movie simply becomes a series of sometimes cute moments and cute special effects confined to a straightforward espionage yarn, with little overall cohesion.
Among the better scenes: An invisible Nick chewing a wad of bubblegum and then blowing a bubble, seemingly in mid air; likewise, an invisible Nick smoking a cigarette and his lungs suddenly filling with very visible smoke; or an invisible Nick calmly returning a purse to a lady after its being snatched by a thief. There's also a tension-filled scene in the villainous Jenkins' office as Jenkins becomes aware of an invisible Nick hiding nearby. But such scenes are few and far between. Even an attempt at metaphor, comparing Nick's existence before his accident as being "invisible" because he had no wife, no family, few friends, and a lackluster life, comes to naught.
Mostly, we get a motion picture that might well have been titled "Memoirs of an Invisible Zombie," it moves so determinedly and repetitiously through its calculated and predetermined paces. The regrettable thing is that one can see at a glance how much better the movie could have been if Carpenter had been allowed to make it as a full-blown thriller, and perhaps how much better it would have been with Neill in the lead role instead of the much too-casual Chase. Alas, some things are not to be.
The movie's theatrical exhibition ratio, 2.35:1, has been reduced only a tad for this 2.09:1 anamorphic DVD presentation. Colors are especially natural and good-looking, and definition is reasonably good in patches as well. However, not all scenes fare so well. A check of the disc's bit rate indicates a rather ordinary transfer, resulting in some small degree of roughness, a fine grain, some jittery lines, and a few downright blurry shots. None of this should be much of a distraction in a movie that really doesn't get too engrossing anyway.
The film was originally made in Dolby Surround Stereo, which is exactly the way it's presented here. While the rear channels are not delivered with pinpoint information right and left but with a single monaural signal, the surrounds open up with surprising vigor on occasion and are robustly effective. The front-channel stereo spread is also excellent, as are the general dynamics. About the only drawback to the sonics is the lack of frequency extremes: the bass is not particularly deep and the treble is not particularly high or airy. This results in the audio impact being somewhat less dramatic than it might have been.
There is not a lot in the extras department to excite a person. The two main items include about three minutes of deleted scenes and a four-minute featurette, "How To Become Invisible." The deleted scenes are oddly mistermed "outtakes," an expression usually used to describe scenes or shots edited out of the final production because of technical errors; but these "outtakes" just seem to be additional or expanded scenes that were cut for other reasons. I don't know; I'd have to watch them again for goofs or errors I didn't notice the first time. Whatever, they're not of much interest. The featurette examines the early use of computer graphics to create the special effects, like rendering Chase sometimes only partially invisible. Then, there are thirty-one scene selections and a cast and crew list. English and French are the spoken language options, with English, French, and Spanish for subtitles.
"Memoirs of an Invisible Man" is a good example of what can happen when a film never makes up its mind what it wants to be. In attempting to be both a mystery thriller and a romantic comedy without knowing how to gracefully combine the two, the movie dilutes the elements of both genres into a lukewarm muddle. Chase, a consummate deadpan comedian, is wasted as the beleaguered hero, while Daryl Hannah, a beautiful and engaging actress, is used merely as a prop. Of course, being lukewarm is not entirely a bad thing. It beats dead cold. And there are moments in "Memoirs" that are admittedly funny and suspenseful. But they don't add up to much of a movie.