I’m a sucker for a good “Invisible Man” story. Ever since H.G. Wells put out his story in 1897, he’s captivated readers, and his story has been a part of Hollywood history since 1933. For decades we’ve gotten to see Hollywood tackle the story and offer viewers some FX wizardry that has ranged from cheap and silly to simply Hollywood magic (aka CGI or even better, a man in a green suit). A good portion of these films have been good. I’ve always been a fan of the 1992 John Carpenter film Memoirs of an Invisible Man, and more recently in 2020 we had The Invisible Man, which I’d argue might be the best of the “Invisible Man” films. Then you have a film like The Man Who Wasn’t There, a 1983 release that tries to reinvent the story and fails in such a way that you have to wonder if anyone involved with the making of the film had ever seen the previous films or read the books, because the result is a mixture of bad to awful, and no amount of bare breasts could save this film, though they inserted plenty to test this theory. So what makes this a film I’d wager many involved wish it could just vanish from their film resume?
The film opens up with Sam Cooper (Steve Guttenberg); he works for the State Department and is trying to make it on time for his wedding. As he’s getting ready, an invisible man who happens to be a secret agent bursts into his room and is killed by a group of men who are trying to retrieve this secret formula that is stored inside a silver ball that can make someone turn invisible. The police, the Soviets, and the American government all believe Sam is the killer of the agent, so he’s forced to go on the run, and he’s taken the formula with him. His bride has called off the wedding, and with nowhere to run, the only person that can help him is Cindy (Lisa Langlois), who seems happy that his wedding was ruined and is eager to be with him. OK, so the plot doesn’t seem bad, but the problem is that the execution is so bland, and rather than play this more seriously, instead they go for laughs, but there is NOTHING to laugh about here. This film is one train wreck of a joke that never delivers.
When Cindy has Sam hide out at a school, this is used as an excuse for Sam to slip into the girls’ locker room and watch the girls shower … Something so simple for lowbrow humor, and still this film manages to miss the mark here. Even ignoring how this has nothing to do with the story, and it’s obviously a shameless way to just film a bunch of naked girls in the shower, the execution is so lame, and this is coming from a guy who loves shameless lowbrow humor. The other example of this comes later in the film where Sam and Cindy hide out in an apartment and take this time to get steamy. Yeah, a sex scene with an invisible man, but the gag is they are being watched by a group of old men who seem to have a routine get together to peep on their neighbors with telescopes in hopes of seeing some lewd activity. This isn’t bad; this is just dumb. If it were a teenage kid then maybe I’d give this a pass, but again, this is a scene aiming to be silly, and it just misses the mark.
As for the whole government angle and the henchmen constantly trying to kill Sam and retrieve the formula, I found it all just exhausting to watch. Then they tried to add this layer of mystery with this character “Runkelman” who is trying to get the formula for their own use …When it comes to the big reveal of who “Runkleman” is and their motivations, it was enough to convince me that this film was either written by a child, or simply no one at the studio actually read the script or cared about this project and expected it to fail. There is no reason why a movie should be this bad. Just the notion of an “Invisible Man” film in 3D is enough of a red flag. Seriously, why does an invisible man need to be in 3D? The 3D work is a bit bland, just objects being thrown at the screen mostly; it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this is from the same producer of Friday the 13th 3D (to be fair, I enjoy this entry in the Friday the 13th films, just not the use of the 3D).
Lucky for Steve Guttenberg, his career survived this film. Jeffrey Tambor and William Forsythe also are in the film, though I doubt that’s something either would brag about. What’s frustrating is that this was directed by Bruce Malmuth, who delivered the fun Sylvester Stallone film Nighthawks as well as Hard to Kill. Neither are classics, but far superior films compared to this. This might be one of the worst films I’ve seen in some time. This one for me will be known as The Film I Wish Wasn’t There.