The original INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS was the product of a particular time, place, and mentality. Those would be the 50s, the United States, and the paranoia rampant at the time over the Communist Menace. Or the 50s, the United States, and the suffocation of conformity. Either way, it was a potent message at just the right time done with the sort of zeitgeist angst that can’t be faked.
In 2007, there is much to feel angst-y over. And the re-make of the classic 50s B-movie, THE INVASION, skirts all of them. Somewhere in this free-range mess of a script, there was the germ of a good idea. Alas, it was sacrificed to the concept of a star vehicle for Nicole Kidman, and any sense of pervasive unease that made the first film so great is lost to car chases, make that >flaming< car chases, cool computer simulations of exploding cells, and shots of Ms Kidman’s underwear that don’t serve the story so much as show that Ms Kidman is still in great shape.
In this version of the tale, a shuttle disaster brings back a virus when it crash lands in a field. It’s not just any virus, no, this is one that can survive the cold vacuum of space and the fiery re-entry into earth’s atmosphere. And, of course, the chief scientist, Tucker (Jeremy Northam), on the scene cuts his hand on a piece of the infected debris. Later that evening, as Tucker sleeps fitfully, a film of something ooky forms over him and when he wakes up, he’s doing his impression of Mr. Rogers. That seems very odd to his ex-wife, Carol (Kidman), a psychiatrist who’s not happy that the ex is suddenly back in her life and taking an interest in their 6-year-old or so son, Oliver (Jackson Bond) after four years of barely noticing him. She’s also not happy about the slimy something she finds in Oliver’s Halloween candy, and even less happy when her best pal, Ben (Daniel Craig) takes it to >his< pal Stephen (Jeffrey Wright) for analysis and it comes up as an alien bug. People are infected, the go to sleep and wake up an unemotional shell of their former selves.
The first of many sins here is that the entire story is set up and going in less than five minutes. There is no build-up, no pacing, no surprises. One minute, Carol is seeing an abused wife (Veronica Cartwright in the best performance in the film) who is convinced that her husband is not her husband, and the next, the alien bug has taken over pretty much the whole of Washington, D.C. It’s the jump cut from cinematic hell and this is particularly annoying because there is so much exposition in the film. Wright grimly recites what the bug can do, Craig grimly recites that they need to get out of town, Carol grimly recites that she is worried about Oliver. And all of them do the reciting with a minimal show of emotion, making the part where the infected population having no emotions pretty much moot. Craig, one of the sexiest men on the planet, is rendered into a eunuch on many levels. Kidman speaks softly, even when she’s yelling, and concentrates on looking like a flawless porcelain doll. The only time she gets close to actual emoting is when she is trying to fool the army of the infected by acting emotionless, at which point she gets twitchy.
The film circles around the exposition and repetitive situations that become progressively more absurd. It starts with conference room full of people not noticing that the wait staff is hocking up really big loogies into their coffee (the loogies are one way of infecting people), moves on to one of the infected people viciously trying to get into Carol’s home and being stymied by the glass pane in her door, to Carol, in an effort to fend off sleep after her ex hocks a loogey at her, instructs Oliver in how to jab a very big hypodermic of something directly into her heart. That would be just before she leaves him alone in order to go into the cliché very scary room with the very scary monsters.
INVASION doesn’t so much end as it runs out of steam. The last car has sped along, the last graphic of an exploding cell has been shown, and Ms Kidman keeps her clothes on. At this point, Wright grimly recites what happened next as far as the alien bug and the human population in less than 2 minutes and, finally, we can all go home.