Remember what a goofball Chevy Chase used to be? And all those hilarious movies he made? Spies Like Us, Fletch (but not Fletch Lives), ¡Three Amigos!, Caddyshack. I’m told he was funny in that TV show he was in recently, but I never saw it.
In John Carpenter’s Memoirs of an Invisible Man, we get a much less manic Chevy Chase, though you’ll still get his energy as he attempts to eat with invisible hands or stumbles to find and put on his invisible clothes. He plays Nick Halloway, an executive at an investment firm (snooze) who attends a scientific lecture and tries to mitigate his hangover by taking a nap in an empty office. I’ve done that. Haven’t we all?
But this office happens to be in a building where some scientists are doing weird things. A malfunction caused by spilled coffee (something else with which I’m intimately familiar) turns a sleeping Nick completely invisible (had he not needed the nap, he would’ve heard the alarms, another in a long list of problems caused by excessive drinking). After rabid CIA agent Jenkins (the always excellent Sam Neill) gets wind of Nick’s state, he sets out to capture Nick in the hopes of turning him into a CIA asset.
Halloway has trouble adjusting to the loss of his molecules, including a scene that surely illustrates the worst part of being invisible: hearing what your friends are saying about you when you’re not around. He finds help in the form of Alice, played by the lovely Daryl Hannah. Meanwhile, Sam Neill’s character becomes increasingly unhinged in his pursuit of Halloway.
As I said, Chevy Chase isn’t quite his usual goofy self, and that’s a good thing for this film. He puts a bit of gravel into his voice, which works well for the noir-like narration. Everyone plays it like that, a little dry and noir-ish. Even Stephen Tobolowsky turns in a dark, serious performance.
Is there any science that explains what happened to Halloway? Maybe. It’s not discussed much in the film (even the scientist Halloway consults doesn’t know). But that’s okay. It’s a sci-fi result without the sci-fi explanation. We can accept things like artificial gravity and teleportation in Star Trek without them explaining the principles behind them, can’t we? In Memoirs, the protagonist is an everyman, not a scientist, not someone with any stake in the setup. Imagine Jurassic Park told entirely through the kids’ point-of-view, without any understanding of the genetic sorcery that created the dinosaurs. The story would still work, right?
You can’t talk about this movie without discussing the special effects. These days, they’d use CGI and someone in a motion-capture suit for shots like the ones of a partially-visible Halloway, but Memoirs had to do much of it with makeup and optical affects, with very little (if any) in the way of computer-generated stuff. They make use of lots of old-school tricks, and it’s always fun to see that, the way they used to do things, the work that went into firing an audience’s imagination. These days, every magical thing you see on screen elicits the same response in the brain: meh, it’s just CGI. I’ve long been bored with it.
Something else interesting about Memoirs of an Invisible Man: the PA announcer at the accident site sounds a lot like Seth MacFarlane (the same voice turns up over the radio when a CIA strike team arrives at Halloway’s apartment to capture him). Is it him? There’s no mention on IMDb. Age-wise, he would’ve been eighteen or nineteen, so not entirely out of the realm of possibility. And it’s not unheard of that someone would go completely uncredited. Who knows? Well, he probably does.
I’m writing about another John Carpenter movie next week. Wanna guess which one? No prizes for getting it right, but feel free to conjecture. See you next time.