October Extras 2: Memoirs Of An Invisible Man (1992)

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?


  1. To be fair to Chevy, he did play a nice [if underused ] role in Dirty Work. I mean he's doing what he always does, but he's good at it.

    I also really like Memoirs. It's fun and if it's on TV I watch it. No channel changing.

    Sam Neil started to wear on me after 4 or 5 movies. I like him, but don't miss him.

  2. I've always really enjoyed this film as well; it's a great homage to that classic Universal style template. This is for me now officially the last decent Carpenter outing. I watched "In the Mouth of Madness" for the first time since it was in theaters a few days ago, and it does not hold up at well at all (IMHO). I can't stand the MOH entries, Vampires, Body Bags, or Ghost on Mars, and while I think Village of the Damned might be the closest to capturing that old school Carpenter feel, it's still a pretty terrible film.

    If I remember correctly, Carpenter blamed Chevy for the film's ultimate failure; supposedly he flipped out about alienating his core audience (Did he even have one left at this point?) and decided to tout it up as being a comedy in his classic style when he did the talk show circuit.

    I also remember this was a time when Carpenter was attatched to all of these cool sounding projects like "Creature from the Black Lagoon" remake, "Martian Chronicles," and I believe a "Thing" sequel. Guess the box office really shut him out of a lot of things, or maybe he just didn't want to do them. He's always stated that his paycheck from this film pretty much set him for life.

  3. Until this moment I had no idea that John Carpenter (one of my very favorite directors for many reasons) directed this, the only Chevy Chase movie I can say I actually like where in he is the star. I was amazed when I saw this on HBO after it bombed at the box office because I loved it so much. I just cannot think of a single part that's bad. Or if there are one or two, they are so short I barely notice them. I think I like this movie more because most people don't. It is one of those special movies that just feels "MINE" because no one else seems to get it. Kudos for reviewing it.

  4. I agree with Tony here, the last time I saw it [January o8] is when I noticed it was carpenter film. Nice surprise.

  5. that's funny, jonathan, cause, of the few MOHs i've seen, Cigarette Burns is my favorite. it took the lovecraftian concept towards books and applied it to film (i do believe the ending is rather weak.) with it's hints towards perez-reverte's Club Dumas and ramsey campbell's Ancient Images, i thought it was the best carpenter film since....hold it....In The Mouth of Madness (i'm a lovecraft fan, i can't help it.)


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