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MEMOIRS OF AN INVISIBLE MAN ***
Directed by John Carpenter. Starring Chevy Chase, Daryl Hannah, Sam Neill, Michael McKean, Patricia Heaton, Stephen Tobolowsky. Comedy, USA/France, 99 mins, cert 12.
Released in the UK on DVD & Blu-ray by Fabulous Films on October 1st 2018.
1992s MEMOIRS OF AN INVISIBLE MAN is a notable movie for many reasons, and not all of them good. The first thing that grabs you is the choice of director, as John Carpenter’s first directorial credit of the ‘90s was a fairly safe choice considering he was coming off the back of arguably two of his most subversive movies, namely PRINCE OF DARKNESS and THEY LIVE, and unusually this was a big budget studio movie. As Carpenter is not really known for his comedy chops the choice of leading man would guarantee that this fairly straightforward tale of a hard drinking stockbroker turning invisible after an accident in a science lab lends the material the right level of witty humour and dramatic urgency, and when you need that essential blend you call on Chevy Chase, right? After all, he was Clark Griswold.
Chase plays Nick Halloway, said stockbroker who tries his best to keep a low profile at work whilst still enjoying the benefits that his privileged position brings, i.e. booze and women. After meeting up with his friend George (Michael McKean – THIS IS SPINAL TAP) and getting introduced to Alice (Daryl Hannah – SPLASH) Nick hits the bottle to celebrate his luck and goes into a works presentation the next day a little worse for wear, hiding in a quiet room and keeping out the way until an accident in one of the building’s science labs means part of the building – including Nick – is blasted with an invisibility ray. As Nick tries to deal with his situation he is pursued by ruthless and slightly unhinged CIA operative David Jenkins (Sam Neill – JURASSIC PARK), all the while trying to rekindle his romance with Alice, who wants to see him but physically can’t – do you see?
MEMOIRS OF AN INVISIBLE MAN is what you would call a ‘harmless’ comedy in that there is no nudity, no gross-out gags and only mild bad language, and that is not a bad thing but with Chevy Chase reigning in his slapstick tendencies and John Carpenter toning down his usual vision and style in favour of dragging out a dull game of cat-and-mouse between Chase and Neill that, despite both actors’ giving great performances, doesn’t really do anything other than pad out the running time, the whole film feels a little flat and directionless. Chevy Chase tries his best to actually act rather than just do his old SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE act on a bigger scale, and while his comic timing is still impeccable most of the jokes are obvious and never really warrant a hearty response, more like a mild chuckle. His scenes with Daryl Hannah (or not actually ‘with’ her, as the case may be) are the strongest moments of the story but there is not enough of them until the final act, when things start to pick up as we get to see Alice give Nick a face made of make-up and we also get to see Nick smoking a cigarette and witness the smoke filling his lungs in a cool special effect. Coming a year after TERMINATOR 2 rewrote the rulebook on special effects you can see how a 1992 audience would lap up some of the clever visuals, especially as romantic comedies don’t normally warrant anything too heavy when it comes to effects, but MEMOIRS OF AN INVISIBLE MAN does suffer from the curse of Blu-ray, where the crisp HD picture reveals what a grubby VHS tape kept hidden and some of the opticals do look a little hokey.
Barely representing the best of John Carpenter or Chevy Chase’s talents, MEMOIRS OF AN INVISIBLE MAN is an average movie that will pass the time inoffensively and that really seems to be the main problem with it – it’s merely just good without ever getting out of ‘safe’ mode. It isn’t the total shambles that its less-than-stellar reputation would have you believe – it was panned by fans and critics at the time – and thanks to Sam Neill playing a very arch villain (which he does so much better than playing the hero) and Chase and Hannah actually being quite sweet when they are ‘together’ onscreen there are some performances to enjoy but you can’t escape the feeling that it could have been so much more considering who was behind the camera.
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