On the opening page of H.F. Saint’s Memoirs of an Invisible Man, the protagonist describes his story as “quite genuinely exciting and superficial.” But John Carpenter’s 1992 film adaptation, a Frankenstein’s monster of a movie that wears its influences on its sleeve, is mostly just superficial.
Carpenter’s genre-based directorial touch gives the proceedings a certain levity, as San Francisco-based stock analyst Nick Halloway (Chevy Chase) is accidentally made invisible by a meltdown at Magnascopic Laboratories and subsequently becomes the target of a sprawling manhunt headed by Jenkins (Sam Neill), a corrupt C.I.A. operative looking to steal Nick away for the agency’s benefit. However, the plot’s various moving parts fail to generate any momentum beyond their knowing winks to a host of predecessors, ranging from North by Northwest to 1930s-era Universal monster movies.
Carpenter’s aesthetic typically draws from a variety of styles and Memoirs of an Invisible Man is no exception. Early wide shots of the San Francisco Bay provide a noirish backdrop for Halloway’s daily grind, while the character’s omniscient voiceover, which invokes the hindsight of Fred MacMurray’s doomed insurance salesman from Double Indemnity, further reinforces this film’s allegiance to noir. But after Halloway’s transformation, Memoirs of an Invisible Man shifts gears into a mix of horror and adventure—and, alas, the genre elements are almost victimized by the script’s delivery of exposition.
Every bit as routine as Jenkins plotting his next move with his superior, Singleton (Stephen Tobolowsky), is the sight of Halloway crouched in a corner, invisible, trying to glean information from others about his condition. And no less compulsory to the film is Alice Monroe (Daryl Hannah), a television producer and love interest helping Halloway duck the bad guys. Throughout, she’s given little more to do than look concerned, smile, and, during a lengthy sequence set in a beachside condo, wear tight jeans and a crop top.
Carpenter has made great action movies loaded with subtext about racial cooperation, from Assault on Precinct 13 to They Live, but the resolutely silly Memoirs of an Invisible Man evinces no such sophistication. In the film’s comedic low point, black face is used as a punchline when Halloway disguises himself in traditional African garb as a cab driver to once again slip through Jenkins’s fingers. And in an underwhelming sight gag, Halloway eats Chinese food with giant tongs because he can’t use chop sticks without being able to see his hands. Carpenter mashed up the archetypes of the western and martial-arts genres in Big Trouble in Little China, but in Memoirs of an Invisible Man the filmmaker only mucks up his bid to make an homage to a range of influences from the classical Hollywood era.
Shout Factory’s 2K scan looks great and is faithful to John Carpenter’s distinctive preference for shooting with natural light. Colors, especially the film’s prominent use of red and blue, are vibrant and bold, properly saturated without looking artificially so. The transfer’s focus and depth of field are impressive, with no glaring flaws. There are no traces of dirt, scratches, or other damage. The DTS-HD stereo track packs a wallop, from Shelly Walker’s peppy score to sound effects during action or chase sequences.
A five-minute featurette on the film’s special effects is more or less an extended ad for Industrial Light & Magic, with only scant analysis of how the effects fit into the spectrum of Hollywood blockbusters during the early ’90s. Another five-minute reel contains snippets from on-set interviews with Carpenter, Chase, and Hannah, with each offering sound bites that more stoke the film than provide insight into its production. Rounding out the slim package are several outtakes, TV spots, and a theatrical trailer.
Shout’s Blu-ray for John Carpenter’s film boasts a wonderful HD transfer, though the flimsy extras verge on making this a barebones release.