"Let's not do anything cheap and meaningless."
If you threw action star Arnold Schwarzenegger and director James Ivory together, you'd most certainly get some raised eyebrows. So imagine how moviegoers felt when they learned that horror master John Carpenter (Halloween, The Thing) decided to cast comedian Chevy Chase (National Lampoon's Vacation, Fletch) in an adaptation of author H.F. Saint's "Memoirs of an Invisible Man"! Unfortunately, the film failed to ignite the box office and has since been regarded as one of Carpenter's lesser efforts. The real question is this: a decade later does Memoirs of an Invisible Man still disappoint? Let's take a look and find out, care of Warner Home Entertainment.
Facts of the Case
Stock analyst Nick Halloway (Chase) has had a hard morning. First he had to recover from a night of heavy drinking. Next he had to sit through a long-winded speech for work. Then he was rendered invisible by a freak lab accident at Magnascopics. When it rains, it pours. As word spreads to higher powers that an actual invisible man escaped the accident, Nick finds himself pursued by the ruthless David Jenkins (Sam Neill, Jurassic Park), a chief advisory who has an obsession with capturing Halloway and using him for his own malicious purposes. As Nick dodges Jenkins and his goons, he finds himself falling in love with Alice (Daryl Hannah, Splash), a girl he met through a mutual friend the night before the accident. With Alice's help Nick narrowly escapes being caught by Jenkins, but finds himself dealing with the difficulties associated with being transparent. But invisibility may not be Nick's biggest concern: the looming question is, how long Nick can keep two steps ahead of Jenkins before he's caught?
John Carpenter's career has been spotty at best since the mid 1980s. The 1990s were especially hard on the director—with flops like Village of the Damned and Escape from L.A. making loud thuds in theaters, Carpenter's heyday seems to have long passed him by. Even 2001's underrated Ghosts of Mars failed to generate any fan interest. In 1992, Carpenter took a stab at the action/comedy genre with Memoirs of an Invisible Man, collaborating with another star whose heyday has also taken the midnight train to Georgia—Chevy Chase. Unfortunately, Memoirs of an Invisible Man did nothing for either's respective career.
I hadn't seen Memoirs of an Invisible Man since the middle 1990s. I was excited to revisit it since it held up so well in my mind—I recalled really enjoying it when I was a teenager. Alas, while I still found it to be entertaining, it's not the exciting chase picture I had locked in my memory.
I've written often about the decline of Chevy Chase's career. While I still think he's done some great comedies, the sad fact is that he's lost his magic touch. For this reviewer, Memoirs of an Invisible Man is the last decent film in his canon. While it's by no means great, Chase still throws off funny one-liners with ease. Aside of a few cameos in duds such as Hero and Last Action Hero, Chase would finish out the 1990s with the abysmally bad Cops & Robbersons and even worse Man of the House. We wouldn't get another good Chase film until…well, we're still waiting. In Memoirs of an Invisible Man, Chase plays almost the exact same character from his previous films: detached, dry, and indifferent. As a comedian Chase does a fine job; playing a fleshed out character is where he stumbles like Gerald Ford. The character of Nick Halloway might have been better served had he been occupied by a more emotive actor. In Chase's hands Nick ends up being a shell of a man—when one character notes that Halloway was "invisible before he became invisible," we all sadly know what he means.
Halloway aside, the supporting cast is made up of some rather talented folks. Sam Neill practically steals the show as the heavy chasing Chase, and Daryl Hannah is surprisingly emotional as Nick's love interest. And it's always nice to see Michael McKean (The Is Spinal Tap) in any movie. Yet even these actors are unable to bring balance to the movie—it's as if the fantastic H.F. Saint book had been squeezed into a screenplay that didn't leave much room for strong characterization.
And so the viewer is left with Industrial Light and Magic's wondrous special effects, which have dulled a bit over the last decade. In 1992 Memoirs of an Invisible Man dazzlingly showed off what computer graphics could accomplish. Today the film looks slightly like a showcase for the effects—some of them still hold up (as when the invisible Nick is caught in rainstorm), while others look less convincing. John Carpenter's direction is flat, though the story is so straight forward that it didn't need lots of razzle dazzle camera work. I don't think Carpenter accomplished as much here as in his other films, though he's produced an entertaining film that should please Chevy Chase and science fiction fans with a taste for modern realism.
Don't get me wrong—I think Memoirs of an Invisible Man is still a fun film, and you could do a lot worse on a Friday night. Needless to say, this makes for a nice addition to a triple bill featuring Paul Verhoeven's effects-laden Hollow Man and the James Whale classic The Invisible Man.
Memoirs of an Invisible Man is presented in John Carpenter's preferred widescreen aspect ratio of choice, 2.35:1, with an anamorphic enhancement for 16x9 TV sets. I was pleasantly surprised with how nice this transfer looks. The colors and black levels are all solidly rendered without any bleeding in the images. Though I did notice a small amount of edge enhancement in a few scenes, overall the imperfects are kept to a bare minimum. In short, this is a fine looking effort on Warner's behalf.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo Surround in English and French. Alas, I was disappointed that this flick wasn't given a hearty 5.1 remix—with all the special effects and action sequences, Memoirs of an Invisible Man seemed like a prime candidate for an overhaul. What we do get is a decent 2.0 Stereo mix that's a mostly front heavy track. While a few directional effects and surround sounds are at a minimum, the dialogue, effects, and Shirley Walker's great music score are free of any major defects. Also included on this disc are English, French, and Spanish subtitles.
Though there were rumors about a possible John Carpenter commentary track, Warner apparently decided against it, making Memoirs of an Invisible Man a nearly bare bones disc. What fans get is about five minutes worth of deleted footage (presented in a rough looking non-anamorphic version) and a short four-minute featurette titled "How to Become Invisible: The Dawn of Digital FX" that focuses on the film's revolutionary (for the time) effects shots. The featurette is very engaging yet is all too brief—and missing any insight from director John Carpenter.
Also included on this disc is a short and pointless list of the cast and crew. The packaging also states that a theatrical trailer has been included, though I was unable to locate it anywhere on the disc.
It's not as good as I remember, yet Memoirs of an Invisible Man is still worth a look. Fans will most surly be happy that this Carpenter flick is finally coming to DVD (which is the last to make it onto the digital format). The video and audio presentations are nice, though the supplements are about as invisible as the film's main character.
Memoirs of an Invisible Man is a recommended rental. For Carpenter fans, it may even be worth the purchase.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• "How to Become Invisible: The Dawn of Digital FX" Featurette
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