The special effects in Memoirs of an Invisible Man aren’t just more accomplished than those in previous invisible-man films (even back in 1933, the bandage-around-the-head stuff was eerily convincing). Here, the effects seem designed to answer all the pesky questions you had about these movies when you were eight years old — questions like, ”Okay, if the invisible man had something to eat, wouldn’t you see the food in his stomach?” You sure would, and in this version you do; you also get to see the food regurgitated, and to see him smoke cigarettes. For every rowdy bit of slapstick in which a pair of pants scurries through a public park, there’s a softer, more imaginative moment, like the one in which Nick Halloway (Chevy Chase), the lonely-guy stock analyst who turns invisible after being caught in a high-tech laboratory accident, ”appears” by having makeup painted on his face; Chase’s impish mug suddenly takes on the quality of a comedy-tragedy mask. At their best, the gimmicks are both funny and eye-popping. One of them is downright lyrical: When Nick gets drenched in a rainstorm, his outline shimmers and sparkles.
There’s every indication that director John Carpenter (Halloween) was trying for more than another rinky-dink Chevy Chase comedy. Except for the effects, though, Memoirs of an Invisible Man comes disappointingly close to being just that. In many of the scenes, Nick is completely visible to the audience (even though we’re meant to understand that no one else can see him). This illusion-shattering device seems a clear commercial compromise, a way of reminding us that we’re watching a Chevy Chase movie after all. Chase, who’s meant to be playing a man in distress, blurts out wry little jokes through a fog of ironic indifference. He has a few throwaway moments, and he and Daryl Hannah (playing the sexiest PBS documentary filmmaker in history) make a sweetly silly couple. As always, though, his performance amounts to a series of wink-and-a-shrug tics; he lacks any true urgency as a protagonist. The plot is boring cloak-and-dagger stuff, with Nick outmaneuvering the government thugs who want to turn him into a spy. Still, if you’ve ever wondered what it looks like when the invisible man chews bubble gum…C+