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Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992) – Carpenter countdown #17

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One of Carpenter's idols is director Howard Hawks, and one of the things he admires about him was his ability to do any sort of film competently within the studio system. Whether it was seeking to emulate that or just needing a project that would get made that made – if we include 'made for TV' work, the longest gap in his career was the four years between this and his previous film, They Live – which meant he signed on for this one, I don't know. Presumably it was his experience with an effects-heavy film that put him on the studio's short-list when Ivan Reitman pulled out over arguments with Chevy Chase about how serious it should be.

Concept: 'We have the technology to do the Invisible Man properly'.

A man hunt is on one night in San Francisco. Men with weird eye gear are looking for someone. It turns out to be – amazingly – the invisible man. We get a quick demo of the 'no wires!' effects and it's onto the story in flashback. Chevy Chase is a lazy, bull-shitting analyst who is introduced to producer Darryl Hannah by best friend Michael McKean. Before long, they're kissing in the ladies loos, but she leaves him with the promise of a lunch date later in the week. The voice over tells us he got drunk and was hungover when he arrives at the offices of a technology firm for a presentation the next morning. Zzzz. Someone knocks over a cup of coffee and causes a major systems failure. Everyone else runs from the building, which promptly becomes partly invisible. CIA killer Sam Neill is called in and manages to get from Washington to California before Chase wakes up and discovers he's become invisible too. So, once he's caught, it's off to the lab with him… except that, quite reasonably, he doesn't want to go to have things stuck up his ass. He manages to escape when the whole building becomes invisible. It's manhunt time, pausing only to get back with Hannah. No-one is surprised when they end up getting away and nasty Neill dies.

What's good: The effects were ground-breaking for their time, even if they would soon be overtaken and look a bit primitive now.

Sam Neill does his evil act. He'd later star in In the Mouth of Madness. Michael McKean (most famous for being David St. Hubbins in This is Spinal Tap) does a competent 'best friend'.

What's bad: What they didn't have is the right acting talent as the lead couple.

Chevy Chase may well have wanted to get away from the broad comedy roles that had made his name, but sometimes it's better to stick to what you're good at. "You're a natural you know, cool, imaginative, elegant", he's told at one point, but who does that remind you of? Yep, Cary Grant could do thrills and comedy in the same film, but Chase is no Cary Grant.

You also don't hire Darryl Hannah for her acting skills. It's one reason she's so good in Blade Runner – playing a replicant is what she always does. When they meet, he asks her what sort of documentary she produces. "Anthropological stuff, traditional cultures.." is the reply but it's striking that the editing conceals her saying the first word. Could it be that she couldn't say it on set? Does anyone believe for a second that she's also a qualified lawyer? (And is anything whatsoever used of that?)

Music: Not by him, but Shirley Walker. It's ok and this was apparently the first time a female composer earnt a solo score credit on a major Hollywood motion picture. The two would later co-score Escape from LA.

Miscellany: One of very few of his films not to have the official title prefix 'John Carpenter's..'

Like Village of the Damned, it also features a quick cameo by Carpenter under the name of Rip Haight, again in the opening minutes.

Overall: It wants to be a thriller, a comedy and a love story at the same time. By trying for all three, it fails to be good at any of them. The basic script is ok (it originates with William Goldman, so of course it is) but apparently it was Chevy Chase's pet project and he knew what he wanted. I'm not sure anyone could have managed to pull it off from that point. Although the direction is competent, it wasn't worth the wait and it's turned out to be Carpenter's last work for a major studio.

TL;DR For completists and those interested in the history of special effects only.

Film: 1/5

DVD: Again, it'd need to be free for me to have a copy. No noticeable extras included.

Written by Ian

June 8th, 2011 at 10:04 am

Posted in Cinema,Countdown

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