Opening Friday, August 17
Nicole Kidman as Carol Bennell
Daniel Craig as Ben Driscoll
Jeremy Northam as Tucker Kaufman
Jackson Bond as Oliver
Jeffrey Wright as Dr. Stephen Galeano
Veronica Cartwright as Wendy Lenk
Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel
Another decade, another riff on Jack Finney’s timeless novel (“The Body Snatchers”) first brought to the screen in 1956’s “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” starring Kevin McCarthy, then again in Phillip Kaufman’s superior 1978 rendition – which covered enough ground to act as a symbol for the ’80s, too, leaving Abel Ferrara’s “Body Snatchers” to carry Finney’s paranoia parable into the ’90s, although the territory during that time was encroached on by two successors: Robert Heinlein’s “The Puppet Masters” (based on a novel that pre-dates Finney’s “Body Snatchers”) and a Scream-ified approach to the concept called “The Faculty” (directed by Robert Rodriguez).
Warner Bros.’ clunky “The Invasion” bears as much resemblance to those previous outright interpretations as much as Rodriguez’s disguised film but it goes about its nods without the knowing B-movie posturing. “Invasion” is serious business, folks. Or, at least it’s trying to be with its A-list casting, patented Joel Silver-produced slickness and some genuinely decent ideas coming to the table in this post-9/11 world. But attempts to be serious or not, the film makes you laugh and I don’t want to laugh at a movie that should make you value you’re individuality, probe your contribution to the human race and raise possible political discussion. Yet, for every right element in the “Invasion,” there is a shameful wrong made through ill-timed spurts of experimental editing, action or dramatic choices that ring a bit too silly for my tastes.
A space shuttle’s fiery plunge to Earth with a microbe affixed to the wreckage sets off the plot’s infection. This alien virus sustains high levels of heat and can enter your system via cuts, any types of fluids or good ol’ mouth-to-mouth exchange. So, no, the folks afflicted by this microbe are not “pod people,” per se, but human dilophosaurs, sans the Elizabethan neck frill, who run around the streets or go door to door, mouths agape “spitting” xeno-goop (sorta like “The Faculty”) to conform their victims. It offers up some wince-inducing, nasty scenes of “infected” freaks yakking up their special juice into cups of coffee at a CDC conference to spread the contamination but the freshness of this new approach collapses during a farcical train car attack loaded with open maws and spit flying everywhere.
Little bits like that break this movie, and that’s not even the worst of them. Finney’s core attributes for the infected (not sure what else to call ’em) retain intact: Don’t show emotion, they get you when you sleep. Staple rules not meant to be broken, right? Wrong. Here, they’re a persnickety lot who don’t show emotion but have violent tendencies (?!) that find them hopping on moving cars and tossing Molotov cocktails which utterly defeats their sly and somnambulistic attitude. They’re forceful, not cunning.
(I should admit a Kevin McCarthy-esque homage brought a smile to my face.)
Caught in this mucky mix is Nicole Kidman’s Carol Bennell, a divorced mother of one who’s ex (one of the first to be infected) has custody of her son during the invasion. Her plight and bouts of fear are palpable even with a fluctuating accent and possible post-production visual tweaking to “soften” her good looks. She’s a sufficient heroine who’s not afraid to knock a kid down to save her own. The story was right to focus more on Carol’s journey, it roots it in something plausible and deepens the audience connection; where it gets wonky is the behind-the-scenes subplot involving Daniel Craig (the possible love interest) and the always captivity Jeffrey Wright, scientists who discover Carol’s son has an immunity to the virus. If they reclaim the kid, a vaccine could be developed. Their science mumbo jumbo comes thick and fast; it rolls off Wright’s tongue as if he’s been living and breathing this speak for years, however, it immediately detaches you from anything that’s going on, especially in the film’s final minutes – a far-fetched wrap-up loaded with exposition.
“The Invasion” takes an arguably drastic turn in broadening its theme. Rather than focus on individual fears of losing one’s self, credited director Oliver Hirschbiegel calls into question humanity’s worth. Is the Earth better off without us? Do we need an invasive species to clean things up? It’s a debate raised once early on, then emphasized during television reports concerning our troops finally pulling out of Iraq and North Korea disarming its nukes. Again, great ideas, but the approach just misses the mark and the sole reason being the execution.
By now, everyone and their grandmother know of the uphill battle “The Invasion” faced to get into theaters (reshoots, change of directors and writers). It’s obvious Hirschbiegel envisioned a picture more moving and with a more profound message. “Invasion” reeks of tampering that screws all of that. You never get a true sense of time – how fast does this infection spread, exactly? Not really sure. Scenes of exposition take sporadic jumps into action-oriented glimpses of the future robbing any potential for pace, moreover, narrative cohesiveness. Continuity takes a barrel-roll leap out the back door as well.
“The Invasion” isn’t as terrible as early test screening reviews suggested; it’s watchable at best and definitely the worst of the “Body Snatchers” films to date. There’s a heart beating in this defective facsimile, it just doesn’t have enough strength to bring it fully to life. As they say: Too many cooks in the kitchen. And maybe too much importance placed on a snazzy end credits sequence.