This is actually another film I picked up to up my “Sam Neill count,” but also because it happens to up my “John Carpenter count” (he’s second, by number of titles, only to Scorsese in my collection, at least, if you count Masters of Horror episodes)–but another factor is the fact that I’ve seen this movie quite a few times, mostly around the time it started hitting movie channels of the HBO variety. I remember watching it over and over around then trying to put together the entire plot from catching bits as well as finally seeing it all the way through, and eventually even seeing numerous “making ofs” (probably the fifteen minute ones HBO used to do).
Nick Halloway (Chevy Chase) is a stock analyst with a pretty humdrum life, spending most of it avoiding work and womanizing. Except, when the movie opens he’s sitting in a seemingly empty chair in a TV studio telling us he’s invisible–and proving it–then stopping to tell us his story. And his story is simple: thanks to a hangover, he drops out of a scientific lecture to go take a nap when an experiment elsewhere in the building suddenly goes wrong and in the ensuing accident, whole chunks of the building are rendered invisible. Nick happens to occupy one such invisible spot and finds himself in a similar predicament. David Jenkins (Sam Neill) is the government agent investigating the accident who realizes there is a man who is insivible and sees the potentially valuable application of such an entity in espionage. Nick is put off by the reptilian–it’s the right word, as much as I hate it as a proponent of removing reptilian and amphibious stereotypes–approach of Jenkins, and runs away, taking it on the lam to avoid being dissected and used.
What was always so fascinating to me in my youth about the film was the approach it took to invisibility. Carpenter takes advantage of Chase’s only real skill in humour–physical comedy. He’s great fun showing us the things we’d never think of, like having to acknowledge that sometimes it ISN’T helpful when others can’t see you, and thinking about how much we must rely on our ability to see our hands for simple activities like eating (especially when he chooses chopsticks for his first invisible meal). Because the invisibility is never explained, we also end up with the reasonable oddity that the things Nick chews, eats and smokes remain visible even as he inhales or digests them–leading to his own nausea at first. He also ends up wet from rain, vaguely defining his body and face for girlfriend Alice Monroe (Daryl Hannah), the same holding true even in wisps of smoke he inhales (probably the most impressive effect). This is the age when digital effects were new, and no one was foolish enough to think they could completely replace physical effects–they are used here only to do the things that are nearly inconcievable, or at least prohibitively difficult, to achieve with physical effects. It’s refreshing to see why I used to be so excited about them considering the modern overuse and absolute glut of their presence.
The interesting thing, which I never realized at the time, is that it’s carried off almost as a sort of film noir, even if it is mostly a comedy, because we have a hapless loser who finds himself suddenly in over his head–nevermind that most of it is narrated with a low, dry, sarcastic voice of our protagonist, regaling us with his story of falling into trouble he never expected. An interesting twist, I have to say, in light of how I remember the film. The supporting cast? Well, we have Daryl Hannah and Sam Neill, as mentioned–both as good as ever, and as much as I like seeing my favourite actors in protagonist roles (I don’t demand heroic!) Sam is very good at this kind of thing. And beyond that? Well now, Michael McKean is a former co-worker and “friend” of Nick’s (there’s a scene of him with his wife midway through the movie which I recall made no sense to me years ago, but makes perfect sense now, which brought a wry smile to my face), Stephen Toblowsky (who you’ve seen before, sort of a rounded-off, nerdy version of J.K. Simmons almost) as Jenkins’ impotent superior, and George Martin’s son (!) Gregory Paul Martin as the overly-tanned egotist Richard.
It’s a fun movie, pretty much just like I remember it. It’s not the most exceptional of Carpenter’s work (and hey, I liked Ghosts of Mars, okay?–though it’s more competently acted and assembled than that one) but it’s interesting to see how wide-ranging Carpenter’s talents are, to the inclusion of a Chevy Chase comedy (and I can also point out Chase is not grating in this, though I never found him overly so anyway).