A group of scientists led by Sebatian Caine (Bacon), are working on a formula for making subjects invisible. With deadline pressures upon them, Caine decides to test the serum on himself, but is unable to re-appear. It also brings dangerous on a dangerous side effect - psychosis.
From Plato's musings to H.G. Wells; from Claude Raines to David McCallum pulling on his face for '70s TV, the consequences of turning a bloke transparent has long been a potent theme. Now with Paul Verhoeven's giddy hands at the helm, it's pretty obvious the latest venture into invisibility will be a little less tragic self-destruction and a little more internal organs.
There are familiar ingredients: a latex mask to give the semblance of form, and loads of closing doors and echoing footfalls, but the effects, naturally, are leagues ahead of the old floating pencil and mysterious footprint routines.
Verhoeven typically goes for the flamboyantly bloodthirsty - Caine transforms layer by biological layer, and there is playful delight in conjuring various methods of making him semi-visible again: he passes through smoke, he is plunged underwater, caked in blood and blasted with steam. It's a triumph of exploring the ways in which invisibility can be made manifest on the big screen, and one of the few times in recent CGI-baked movies that effects seem to service, rather than overblow, the story.
Occasionally - especially in the third act - the film reverts to formula, concluding in a violent, pick 'em off showdown. Shue and Brolin (as his straight-laced cohorts) chew earnestly on the cheesy dialogue and work the physical stuff pretty well. Bacon pushes extraordinarily hard as Caine, managing to evoke the flipped psyche even when there is only the trace of him on the screen. Sadly, any opportunities for satire are seldom taken up - containing most of the action inside the dark, metallic corridors of the lab limits the chance for Verhoeven's staple Americana piss-take. This remains, though, a juicy Verhoeven show: zero subtlety, but 100 per cent, full-on, vulgar showmanship.
As entertainment it's totally transparent, but trashily dazzling.