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Memoirs of an Invisible Man shows surprising depth

Memoirs of an Invisible Man
Directed by John Carpenter.
Starring Chevy Chase and Daryl Hannah.

By Bill Jackson

I want to say that Chevy Chase's new comedy, Memoirs of an Invisible Man, would do well to become invisible itself. But no, that's too easy. Actually, this is Chase's best film in a long time. Memoirs has just as many Chevy-bumping-into-people scenes as any other Chevy Chase movie, but it also has a lot of solid one-liners and -- I don't believe I'm saying this -- it gives its title character a genuine sense of pathos.

Easy-going Nick (Chase) has slipped away from a boring lecture at a laboratory he's visiting. He no sooner falls asleep in an executive's sauna when something goes wrong in a cyclotron and he wakes up to find himself, and parts of the building, invisible. The Bad Guy (Sam Neill, late of Until the End of the World) wants to capture Nick and use him as part of a secret government plot. The rest of the film's plot is taken up by the chase.

Where this movie works amazingly well is in watching the invisible Nick adapt to the world around him. Escaping from the enemy, he returns to his apartment and tries to eat his Chinese food. However, he quickly learns that it's nearly impossible to use chopsticks when you can't see your hands. Finally scooping the food into his mouth with a pair of giant tongs, he passes a mirror and realizes that although he is invisible, the food isn't, and he sees it slowly being digested in his stomach.

In another scene, Nick punches out a drunk, then holds up the man's arm to hail a cab. In a hilarious exchange, Nick moves the man's mouth and provides the words to tell the driver where to go. Nick also gets to have fun being in rooms and hearing people talk about him; "accidents" tend to happen to those who speak badly of him.

In an amusing and interesting bit, Nick is following Alice (Daryl Hannah), the girl he loves but has not yet revealed his invisible self to, when a boorish oaf (Gregory Paul Martin) slimes his way into her room and sheds crocodile tears before throwing himself on top of her. Nick throws him off the bed. The stunned man, thinking Alice must be amazingly strong, gets up and starts to leave. Alice closes the door behind him, but the outraged Nick reaches up and turns her gentle closing into a slam. She has no idea he is in the room, and the subtleties of his actions in protecting her are amazing and lend depth to the character.

While the film does indeed develop Nick, Hannah and Neill are given one-note roles. While Hannah has to spend her time playing cuddly-sexy, Neill at least can (and does) have fun with his ruthlessly evil agent. Both actors show a gift for physical comedy when they have to interact with the invisible character, and they create a very real sense of someone else being on screen.

The special effects deserve mention, being some of the best put on screen since last summer's Terminator 2. Created by (are there any other special effects companies?) George Lucas's Industrial Light and Magic, they include an amazing scene where Nick smokes, and you see the smoke enter and exit his lungs. Then he leans forward, and you can see the outline of his face shining against the smoke. They manage to take the "liquid" effects of T2 and The Abyss and place them in a comedy-action setting.

Directed by John Carpenter, whose varied resume is a living retribution of the auteur theory of filmmaking, Memoirs of an Invisible Man rises above the level of comedy you might expect from its high-concept plot and delves a bit deeper. Perhaps this is due to the literary source for the story, a book by H. F. Saint. It is a very funny and interesting film which rarely drags; a definite recommendation for an evening's entertainment.