Put yourself in Oliver Hirschbiegel’s shoes. You’ve made several films, two of which broke out of Germany to international success: das Experiment and Downfall. You’re presented with a major studio opportunity to rework Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but with a script that casts the alien invasion as the sort of fascist takeover you’ve already explored.
Two questions arise, then. How do you turn that down, and once accepted, how do you screw it up so badly that the studio calls in the Wachowski Brothers and their lapdog James McTeigue?
The Invasion is indeed a distant remake of Body Snatchers. There are no pods, only a sickly cellular film that covers the body once an ‘infected’ human falls asleep. The infection is spread just like a virus — through expulsions of mucous so violent and frequently shown they belong in a Mortal Kombat movie. Have we been overtaken by Reptile’s race? More important, was Keith Cook’s cameo lost in the Avid?
Nicole Kidman is Carol Bennell, a dedicated, serious and seriously breasted psychiatrist in DC. I’m not kidding about the breasted part, either — her Lara Croft cannàge (that’s a French word) is pure comedic distraction. Bennell’s ex-husband Tucker (Jeremy Northam, trying to be Julian McMahon), a top dog at the CDC, goes to the site of a mysterious and highly contaminated space shuttle crash, where he’s promptly and idiotically infected with the space bug that will then effectively defenestrate both mankind and the movie’s logic.
(There are no actual window dives, but come on. The word is derived from Deutch; allow me this tribute to Herr Hirschbiegel.)
The logic of pathology in this movie makes the science of Sunshine seem Nobel-worthy. We’re talking about a contaminant that isn’t aware or even alive in the ‘blood test from The Thing‘ sense, and is immune to heat and cold, but is somehow able to actively take over another species. Converted humans display a severe lack of affect — they’re Urban American Nazis — compounded by a certain herd instinct and groupthink. But they’re not telepathic, so Carol can pretend to be one of them while she searches for her son Oliver (Jackson Bond), who has been taken away for conversion by daddy.
The aliens, for their part, promise a world without conflict, where no one hurts anyone else because there isn’t ‘anyone else’. In case the subtext isn’t surface enough there, we’re provided with a lengthy and tedious dinner scene in which Carol verbally spars with a Russian diplomat who believes in the brutality of mankind. The text is obvious, belabored, and laughable.
Aiding Carol occasionally is Dr Ben Driscoll, played by a laconic and vaguely interested Daniel Craig. He also enlists the help of another doctor, the researcher Stephen Galeano (Jeffrey Wright). Wright is the lone credible performance in the film, but he’s overshadowed by wild tonal shifts and jarring action sequences; it’s easy to forget about him. He shouldn’t feel bad, though, since everything good in the film (there is very little) is steamrolled in a similar manner.
In fact, it’s easy to forget about everyone in the movie. Hirshbiegel might be more of a fatalist than he’d like to admit, because there’s never the sense that a full alien takeover is anything but a boringly foregone conclusion. And when it doesn’t quite happen, you’ll probably feel robbed. Oh! Was that a spoiler?
It’s difficult to tell where Hirschbiegel’s original work ends and the Wachowski/McTeigue whitewash begins. There are clues, however. Daniel Craig is a big one; he disappears for large chunks of the film. It’s almost refreshing to see a female lead not simply hanging on the energy of her male counterpart, but then you realize that’s because Craig was off working on The Golden Compass or just maintaining his abs while the reshoots rolled. More than once he drops Carol off somewhere extremely dangerous, then cruises the strip for twenty minutes of film.
And, as former Chud star Smilin’ Jack Ruby has pointed out on our message boards, the teeth of young Bond, Jackson Bond are the other clue. The boy’s grill, once you pay attention to it, leads to the feeling that you’re watching Inland Empire, since his appearance changes so thoroughly and frequently as Laura Dern’s.
Finally, you can just check out the garish action sequences blatantly shoehorned into the third act. Most of The Invasion is the equivalent of a stealth video game — stay n the shadows, sneak around that corner, don’t attract attention. Why couldn’t Nicole Kidman shoot out some lights just to complete the illusion?
But then there’s a car chase and a helicopter and a Molotov cocktail filled with Army grade napalm and scenes of swarming transformed city folk that might have been shot by Zack Snyder instead of McTeigue.
There’s already a lot to snigger at in the 80 minutes that went before — Tucker’s infection, the casual disposal of a young boy, the fact that extras are better at staying blankly inconspicuous than Kidman — but you’ll give up altogether at this point. Suddenly Batman Begins looks like a film with an Oscar-worthy conclusion. And Superbad might not be the funniest film this week.
Putting it that way, however, implies that there’s much in acts one and two to keep your attention. Don’t get that idea. The Invasion might not be utterly misconceived, but it is executed with wildly erring skill. I’d love to see what Hirshbiegel turned in; while his facility with action (none is displayed in this compromised product) is in doubt, I can’t help but suspect his version would be less comically suspect than this drivel.