Since 1956’s classic Don Siegel picture, there have been two remakes of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (Phil Kaufman’s edgy but cold 1978 version, and Abel Ferrara’s grubby 1994 effort), along with plenty of imitators. Here’s another, which not only features an A-list cast and top-flight production but mixes in plot elements from the 1999 Johnny Depp-Charlize Theron bomb “The Astronaut’s Wife” (which, in turn, borrowed from old “Twilight Zone” and “Outer Limits” episodes), as well as the 1956 British flick “The Creeping Unknown” (aka “The Quatermass Experiment”—good) and “I Married a Monster from Outer Space” (1958—not so good).
As usual in such cases, the first movie remains the best. The others rank variously along the spectrum, but “The Invasion” winds up at the bottom—a misbegotten clone whose awfulness only accentuates the varied virtues of earlier versions of this pod-people tale.
Nicole Kidman, looking svelte and self-composed, plays Carol Bennell, a Washington, D.C. psychotherapist divorced from her husband Tucker (Jeremy Northam)—a bigwig with the CDC in Atlanta—and doting mother to their sweet little boy Oliver (Jackson Bond). The plot kicks in when the Space Shuttle Patriot flames out upon reentry to the atmosphere—a rather crass reference to the real disaster we all remember—and the wreckage strewn across the continent is infected with a gooey alien spore that quickly takes over those who come into contact with it—Tucker among the first. They then go on to infect everybody else, by spewing bile onto them (this may be a sci-fi flick, but the narrative allows for a succession of vomit scenes). The only way the unaffected can blend in with the folks who’ve been transformed while they sleep is to feign the unemotional, blank-eyed posture taken on by the contaminated.
Carol first becomes aware of what’s happening as a result of protestations by one of her patients (Veronica Cartwright, overacting even more brutally than she did in Kaufman’s picture) that her husband isn’t really her husband, and by the appearance of a bit of suspicious glop in Oliver’s Halloween candy. The situation quickly deteriorates as most of the population succumbs to the pandemic. But Carol, her significant other Dr. Ben Driscoll (Daniel Craig), and his research buddy Stephen Galeano (Jeffrey Wright) struggle on against the blight, with Carol desperately trying to rescue Oliver from Tucker’s clutches while staying awake herself.
“Invasion” tweaks the “Body Snatchers” conventions in a few interesting ways, but in most respects the detours it takes prove dead ends. The initial twenty minutes or so generate a real sense of unease, despite an introductory “flash forward” that doesn’t come off, but the picture quickly degenerates into a parent-and-child-fleeing-aliens scenario entirely too reminiscent of the one Kidman’s ex Tom Cruise played out only recently in “War of the Worlds,” and one that isn’t even true to its own silly rules (the play-zombie-to-escape-notice ploy is never remotely credible because of Kidman’s twitchy performance, and when Tucker and his minions pursue Carol and Oliver, they abandon their usual unemotional posture). A subplot involving Czech diplomats (Josef Sommer and Celia Weston) and their Russian friend (Roger Rees) seems utterly extraneous. And the expository techno-babble introduced to explain what’s going on defies even Wright, who has to deliver most of it, while the big car-chase finale seems entirely tacked on (as it apparently was, in Los Angeles reshoots that undermine the authenticity of earlier D.C. location footage). Worst of all, though, is the uplifting coda that effectively carries the curious message that violence and war are good things because they’re evidence of human freedom. Nobody likes the idea of all mankind being turned into pod-people, but the only sane response to this notion is “Huh?”
No one in the cast distinguishes himself, with Kidman failing as badly as Cruise did to connect emotionally, the pre-Bond Craig coming across as colorless and bland, Northam appearing all to convincingly wooden, and Wright wasted (in his final scene he looks understandably disgusted)—all of which makes for a decidedly inauspicious Hollywood debut for director Oliver Hirschbiegel (the excellent “Downfall”). In fact, the best performance is given by young Bond, who gives Oliver a degree of sweetness and spunk sorely needed here, especially in view of the cold, antiseptic look of the film accentuated by Rainer Klausmann’s gray, metallic cinematography. Klausmann also opts for odd, off-kilter camera angles that, when joined with Joel Negron and Hans Funck’s blunt-force trauma editing (complete with whiplash montages and flamboyant flashbacks), aim for a disorienting effect that comes off more confused and messy than pleasurably unsettling. (In fairness to Hirschbiegel, Klausmann and writer David Kajganich, it should be noted that the studio took over “The Invasion” and ordered substantial reshooting and re-editing prior to release. Their original cut might have been more interesting.)
On the other hand, John Ottman’s score is genuinely distinctive, adding some abrasive energy to the proceedings without becoming overbearing about it. That means you might consider buying a soundtrack CD. A ticket to “The Invasion,” however, is an entirely different matter.