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‘Hollow Man’ a sleazy, shallow Verhoeven film

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HOLLOW MAN —* 1/2 — Kevin Bacon, Elisabeth Shue, Josh Brolin, Kim Dickens, Greg Grunberg, Joey Slotnick, Mary Randle, William Devane; rated R (violence, profanity, gore, nudity, sex, vulgarity); Carmike 12, Plaza 5400 and Ritz 15 Theaters; Century Theatres 16; Cinemark Jordan Landing Theaters; Gateway 8 Cinemas; Loews Cineplex Holladay Center, South Towne Center and Trolley Corners Cinemas; Redwood Drive-in (with "Scream 3").

As a director, Paul Verhoeven has helped Sharon Stone become a star (in "Basic Instinct") and has struck out with supposedly artsy exploitation ("Showgirls"). But his latest "accomplishment" is a movie that, unfortunately, lives down to its title all too often.

"Hollow Man" is exactly that, a shallow, over-the-top, science-fiction thriller that could have really been something. It's certainly got all the ingredients: a good premise, a talented cast and dazzling digital effects.

However, this revisionist (uncredited) version of H.G. Wells' "The Invisible Man" winds up being more sleazy than thought-provoking, and the main reason can be summed up in one word: Verhoeven.

Make no mistake, it's slick-looking enough. But in his increasingly unrestrained hands, it quickly devolves into a gory howler with bad dialogue and a hokey ending that could have come from innumerable bad horror movies.

The title character is Sebastian Caine (Kevin Bacon), a research scientist working on a top-secret project for the U.S. government. He's already made one startling discovery — how to make animals invisible to the naked eye with an irradiated serum.

Unfortunately, he's missing the second part of the equation, which is how to return the animal to visibility — and without permanent damage to the test subject.

And when he finally does, it's less of a cause for celebration than you might think. While his elated colleagues, including his former lover Linda (Elisabeth Shue) and former best friend Matt (Josh Brolin), beg for him to reveal the results to their government employers, Sebastian doesn't and instead decides to test the serum on a human subject, namely himself.

To no one's surprise, the first part of the experiment succeeds, and Sebastian's body vanishes from sight. However, the "reversion" formula fails to work on the scientist/human test subject, who's becoming increasingly unstable.

Sebastian begins sneaking out of the compound at night to peek at a voluptuous neighbor. And his behavior takes on a murderous bent when he gets a whiff of Linda and Matt's romantic relationship, and when his fellow scientists threaten to blow the whistle on him.

It's a familiar but workable premise. But with Verhoeven directing, somehow it gets more and more ludicrous by the minute.

In fact, by the time the second hour rolls around, the film becomes nothing more than an excuse for him to showcase the admittedly terrific special effects, as well as ample female flesh and, especially toward the end of the film, over-the-top gore.

Surprisingly, even the performances aren't all that good. Bacon (who is reduced to a disembodied voice for much of the film) doesn't seem to know whether to go over the top or be more restrained, while neither the stiff Shue nor the smug Brolin make particularly sympathetic heroes.

"Hollow Man" is rated R for graphic violence (including impalings and sexual attacks), strong profanity, gore, male full and female nudity, simulated sex acts and vulgarity (a particularly crude joke told by Bacon's character). Running time: 114 minutes.

E-MAIL: jeff@desnews.com