Memoirs of an Invisible Man
John Carpenter’s career is spotted with a few work-for-hire jobs, impersonal films relatively lacking in his stylistic trademarks and quirks. “Starman,” “Elvis,” “Christine” for a better example. But no work-for-hire job is more work-for-hire-er then “Memoirs of an Invisible Man.” While he’s not totally inexperienced in the genre, a slapstick Chevy Chase comedy is far from the first thing you associate with the director. His lack of interest is so obvious, you can see it right there in the poster. “Memoirs of an Invisible Man” is the only John Carpenter film without his name over the title.
The movie starts off on a semi-decent note. Chevy Chase plays a stock broker, one who is, har har, rather transparent in his personal life and philosophies. His life is devoid of meaning until he meets Alice, played by Daryl Hannah during the peak of her loveliness, and immediately falls in love with her. Shame for him that the next day he gets caught in a lab accident at a nuclear research facility and turned invisible. Soon, he’s on the run from government agents. The movie gets some decent comedic mileage in these early going scenes from Chase’s typical sarcastic wit, in particular his dismissal of his co-workers. There’s a number of laughs and sight gags in the early going. A particularly amusing sequence involves the invisible Chevy manipulating a unconscious drunk in a taxi cab. There’s some small, funny gags, like Chase nonchalantly grabbing a purse back away from a purse-snatcher.
Considering Chase’s other comedic trademark is his slapstick antics, you’d think being invisible for the majority of the film would be a hindrance. That’s right and the movie gets around this in a pretty lame way. A lot of the film is shown from Chase’s perspective, showing him as visible in many scenes. The only time he’s actually invisible is when the movie needs to show off some special effects, showing objects floating in the air, manipulated by invisible hands. Granted, the special effects, most of them accomplished with blue screen methods, actually hold very well. Pencils, phones, and even a faceful of make-up float seamlessly in the air. The only time the effects show their age is the shot of a floating head running down the street. All of this is neat but I feel like a memoir featuring a largely visible man is kind of cheating. Perhaps this was a concession to Chase’s notorious ego?
Another weird aspect to the film is the subplot involving the government agents. Sam Neill plays the villainous Agent Jenkins. Neill is actually legitimately sinister in this part, creating a lot of malevolent intent with just a glare. Moreover, the way he makes a fairly convincing case for his goals makes him an oddly rounded villain. This is best illustrated in a brief moment where Hannah looks up into a train door, seeing Neill’s face reflected on the other side of the glass. The movie is overall light-hearted and Neill’s most villainous act is an off-screen murder, which really isn’t followed up on or given much weight. So this makes the character’s ultimate fate seem overly mean-spirited, not to mention casting Chase in an unpleasant light.
There’s ultimately little here to interest Carpenter fans. As far as his stylistic trademarks go, there’s one brief tracking shot and a POV shot, from Chase’ perspective as he floats over the edge of some water. Beyond that, there are some classic horror references. The invisible man, naturally, gets in a bathrobe, bandages, and goggles at one point. Neill mentions the possibility of invisible agents in World War II. The movie keeps a few accurate aspects from H.G. Welles’ original novel, such as digesting food in the invisible man’s stomach being visible until fully adsorbed into the body or the invisible man having difficulty sleeping do to a lack of eyelids. (It doesn’t address dirt collecting under fingernails or going blind from invisible corneas.) Carpenter, being a blatant Hitchcock fan, can’t resist throwing in a brief shout-out to Bodega Bay.