Invasion, The (United States, 2007)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Based on the evidence at hand, it's impossible to say whether director Oliver Hirschbiegel's (Downfall) original cut of The Invasion would have been any good. What can be said is that the mismatched blending of Hirschbiegel's low-key horror and the Wachowski Brothers' anything-but-low-key action sequences results in a cinematic dud. The Invasion doesn't know what it wants to be - an action film, a horror movie, a science fiction allegory, a mother/son bonding picture - and , as a result, it ends up being none of the above. After an atmospheric and well-paced first two reels, the movie loses coherence as it rushes through potentially slower sequences to get to the pyrotechnic payoffs that result in an abrupt, unsatisfying conclusion.

This is the fourth screen adaptation of Jack Finney's The Body Snatchers. The strong beginning promises an effective re-imagination of the Cold War tale, but the film never delivers. As the tone vacillates between creepiness and mayhem, we begin to wonder if the movie has a split personality. Poor test screenings caused Hirschbiegel's final cut to be scrapped. The Wachowski Brothers and their (uncredited) hand-picked director, James McTeigue, were brought in to do substantive re-shoots designed to position the film less as an "art house" offering and more as "mainstream" fare. The new sequences are so awkwardly incorporated that they couldn't be more obvious if a neon sign was displayed above them. Hirschbiegel's material is moody; it inspires unease. McTeigue's is over-the-top and ridiculous; it inspires either contempt or laughter (depending on your mood). There may be a good movie in there somewhere, but it's not the one I saw projected on the screen.

Carol Bennell (Nicole Kidman) is a divorced psychiatrist who is upset about being parted from her son, Oliver (Jackson Bond), when he goes to spend time with his dad, Tucker Kaufman (Jeremy Northam). Her (platonic) best friend, Ben (Daniel Craig), tells her not to worry but Carol's unease is well founded. It seems that Tucker has been taken over by an alien species and his #1 goal is to make everyone like him. It doesn't take long before humans are being converted en masse, and the transformation happens easily: all it takes is being sneezed or spat on by someone already infected followed by a good night's sleep. The government is calling the epidemic a "flu" and is setting up "vaccine centers" - but those with inside knowledge like Carol recognize that the only way to avoid contamination is to stay awake. The infection takes control during the REM phase of sleep, and those who succumb to slumber will no longer be themselves when they awaken.

Most of the movie consists of Carol searching for her son and, once finding him, trying to keep him from the aliens' clutches. This results in a lot of running around that climaxes with an idiotic car chase in which Carol's burning car is guided to its destination by a helicopter. This sequence might not seem out of place in a Die Hard movie but its incorporation in The Invasion is a miscalculation that singlehandedly torpedoes the film's final quarter. The movie has other problems - most notably the way significant exposition and transition scenes have been eliminated - but this is one it cannot overcome.

Fans of Nicole Kidman's acting will be disappointed. Despite a lot of screen time, she doesn't do much. She's mainly on hand to look good (as in an early shot where she's dressed in a sheer white tee-shirt) while playing the damsel-in-distress turned mother-protector. The role is physical but not challenging. One assumes that had Daniel Craig been offered this part after winning the 007 sweepstakes, he would not have taken it. The word "thankless" comes to mind, although Craig's limited involvement doesn't come close to the way Jeffrey Wright (as a scientist investigating the epidemic) is underused. The film tries to pay homage to one of its predecessors by giving a small role to Veronica Cartwright (one of the leads in 1978's Invasion of the Body Snatchers).

Jack Finney's source material was a thinly veiled commentary about the Red Scare (not unlike Arthur Miller's The Crucible). For The Invasion, an attempt is made to tie the body snatchers' work into a myriad of real-life current events: mistrust of government, the situation in Iraq, and the fear of a worldwide medicine-resistant pandemic. It's done sloppily and haphazardly, however. In the end, allegorical aspirations have been shunted into the background by the need to enhance the film's action quotient. Likewise, the pyrotechnics put an end to suspense and tension. Both are present for a while, as Carol fights off sleep to protect her son, but the desire to "dazzle" audiences with spectacle undermines these fragile elements. In its current form, The Invasion is an erratically assembled mess that fails to satisfy the expectations of any genre's adherents. It moves fast enough that boredom is unlikely, but the ending is so weak that it will leave many viewers wondering why they bothered going along for the ride in the first place.

Invasion, The (United States, 2007)

Run Time: 1:39
U.S. Release Date: 2007-08-17
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity, Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1