OCTOBER 23, 2008
I have the unique privilege of saying that my two favorite actors have worked with my two favorite directors. Bruce Willis starred in Michael Bay’s Armageddon, and Chevy Chase toplined John Carpenter’s Memoirs Of An Invisible Man. Sadly, Bruce apparently hates Bay and John all but took his name off the film (it’s one of the only films that doesn’t have his name above the title. It doesn’t even say “A John Carpenter film”), but I’ll take what I can get.
But while Armageddon displays all that makes me love the folks in the first place (Bruce being Awesome, Bay blowing up everything in sight... can'you guys wait for my long-awaited review next week or what?!?!), Memoirs doesn’t really satisfy me as a Chevy OR Carpenter fan, due to both men using the film to try to do something different. Chevy fares a bit better than Carpenter; it’s one of the few films in which he actually acts, and while the role is far from humorless, he manages some genuine sympathy and remains interesting even when he’s not telling jokes, something you can’t often say about his performances. I think Funny Farm and Foul Play may be the only other films in which he was funny but still playing a genuine character. Also, and I couldn’t have known it at the time, it was the last time he starred in a decent movie, so it has some nostalgic value to me.
But Carpenter... there’s almost no sign of his style or personality here. Some of the film’s opening scenes, when Chevy is making his video, feels like vintage Carpenter, but the rest is rather "average". The effects are still astonishing at times (the film was one of the first to really demonstrate what CGI could do), but that’s probably more the work of the ILM guys than Carpenter. Certainly he knows how to stage a setpiece or keep an audience in suspense, but there is little of that talent on display here. He was the third (at least) director to come on board, and I wonder if he even bothered restaging the scenes or simply used the storyboards and such that the other guys had prepared. Apparently Chevy (who also produced) was a bit of a tyrant on the set, which I’m sure didn’t help. The only real sign that he was even involved in the film is the fact that the building where Chevy turns invisible is located in “Santa Mira”, also the home of Silver Shamrock.
Still, it’s an enjoyable comic thriller. The San Francisco backdrop is, as always, gorgeous, and some of the more inspired bits (like when Chevy knocks out a drunk and uses him to hail a cab) are a lot of fun. And Sam Neill is a great villain; pitting him against both Chevy and Stephen Tobolowsky (as a bureaucratic section chief) is a stroke of genius. It’s interesting that such a classy theater type guy appeared in back to back big budget FX movies (he was also in that one with the dinosaurs, if you have forgotten), and also a shame that he never really took off as a leading man in Hollywood (I think the last big movie he was in was that Wimbledon thing).
The DVD was one of the last Carpenter films to hit the format, and while there is obviously no commentary, there are some nice extras, including some deleted scenes (listed as outtakes) and a brief look at the FX. I wish the HBO special that aired when the movie was released was on there, but alas. Also, there is an Easter Egg where you can watch Chevy and John (mostly Chevy) block out a shot. Watching it, I realized that it was the only time in history I’ve seen him actually being actorly (the HBO special was a lot of goofing off), since none of his movies have big special editions or anything like that (or when they do, such as Fletch, he doesn’t bother appearing).
Even though it underwhelmed, I wish the movie had been a hit (it was actually a pretty big bomb; even Cops and Robbersons opened bigger I think). I can’t help but think that the careers of both guys may have turned out different. Carpenter really only delivered one more time after that (Mouth of Madness) before phoning everything in, and Chevy followed it with his talk show (good Lord) and then a long string of family movies, a phase he’s not quite yet done with. Oh well.
What say you?