The Nostalgia Files: ‘Memoirs of an Invisible Man’ (1992)
Memoirs of an Invisible Man
Directed by John Carpenter
Written by William Goldman and Robert Collector
Chevy Chase is something of a mystery. In the mid-1970s through the late-1980s, the quirky comedian starred in a number of well-known films. Many of said films highlighted Chase’s strongly unique comedic style. Cynicism and goofy charm were the actor’s best attributes and this very appealing personality even seemed to inspire actors today like Jason Lee and Ryan Reynolds. This suave funnyman persona suited Chase well, but as the 80s started winding down, audiences and critics seemed to have grown tired of the actor’s predictability and somewhat stale brand of humor. He did manage, however, to squeeze out one fun little performance in 1992’s Memoirs of an Invisible Man.
Based loosely on H. F. Saint’s 1987 novel of the same name, Memoirs tells the harrowing story of Nick Halloway (Chase), a mild-mannered stock analyst who plays it “fast and loose,” only to get accidentally turned invisible in a science laboratory facility meltdown. The CIA, led by a shady Sam Neill, is made aware of Nick’s condition and soon begin to pursue him in an attempt to exploit him and use his unique abilities in the dark world of espionage.
Love interest Alice Monroe, played by a bland-as-always Darryl Hannah, adds some allure to the film and makes for an average damsel alongside Nick’s distress. Both tall and good-looking, they actually make an appealing couple. Their relationship reaches an all-time high in one of the film’s best scenes: Nick and Alice get caught in some heavy rain and since Nick is transparent, the water clings to him, making for a beautiful, almost angelic silhouette. He and Alice kiss and the imagery coupled with the twinkly score is close to movie magic.
A relatively by-the-numbers thriller, Memoirs also incorporates elements of science fiction, comedy, and romance. With all of these genres blended together, the film gives off a fun, quirky vibe, one which is easy to digest and enjoy. Also, the PG-13 rating enables children enjoy the film as well.
John Carpenter, known for his gritty sci-fi and horror films, has a unique style and incorporates humor in many of his projects. Big Trouble in Little China, They Live, and Escape from LA come to mind. The very mention of Chevy Chase immediately has audiences expecting a zany comedy. Memoirs is far from it. The film’s main genre is sci-fi but with Chase in the mix, the comedic tone can get a little confusing. That’s not to say the film is bad. It’s just different. Chase inserts his usual brand of humor but it is overshadowed by Carpenter’s dark storytelling. It’s an exciting cat-and-mouse adventure story that will leave you laughing in some parts.
Now, being a science-fiction film, cool special effects are to be expected. The visual effects giant Industrial Light & Magic worked on Memoirs and the results are just exquisite. With Terminator 2: Judgment Day released the year before and Jurassic Park coming out the year after, ILM was at the top of its game, winning Academy Awards and solidifying their place in blockbuster filmmaking. Memoirs, though not a huge blockbuster, is still a highly entertaining picture and ILM treated the film no differently. The shots of invisible Nick are truly breathtaking and the fast-paced nature of the film makes for some really fun visual effects sequences, like Nick playing tennis and jogging with his wrist and headbands visible but not his actual body. The money shot would probably have to be the image of Nick chewing bubble gum. ILM certainly knows what they’re doing and Memoirs is excellent proof of that.
The formula for Memoirs is a very common one in Hollywood. Hero, villain, love interest, GO! Much of that applies here; however, Carpenter set a tone here filled with many layers. The constant mixture of genres is what makes Memoirs such a special film. With Nick evading the CIA and falling into dangerous scenario after dangerous scenario, one would get a sense that Carpenter is trying to mirror Alfred Hitchcock and in many scenes, he is. This nod to classic suspense is more than welcome and Chase’s occasional goofball persona lightens the mood, creating a universe that may not be realistic, but is downright fun.
With a screenplay by Robert Collector, Dana Olsen, and William Goldman adapted from Saint’s kooky novel, Memoirs has many influences, most obviously H.G. Wells’ classic sci-fi novel The Invisible Man. The concept of not being able to be seen is a concept that many people seem to gravitate to. The idea that you can go anywhere and do anything is such an appealing thought that some people might pay a fortune for it to be a reality. In Memoirs, Nick Halloway does not choose this particular existence. His molecules disappear and it is forced upon him; there is no choice and it is because of this tragedy that he must change his life drastically.
With similar ties to the Sam Raimi superhero actioner Darkman, Memoirs sadly fell through the cracks. Luckily though, the film is on DVD and makes its appearance on late night cable TV, if you feel inclined to view this underrated gem. The cast is strong and the direction tight. The screenplay leaves a bit to be desired but that’s fine. The pros definitely outweigh the cons. 1992 may have seen the decline of Chevy Chase’s film career but Memoirs was solid proof that he still had some ammunition left in his comic cannon. Reactions regarding this film have been widely mixed but if you want some quirky sci-fi fun for 99 minutes, Memoirs of an Invisible Man is a charming movie adventure and might be up your alley.
– Randall Unger