What divides a disaster from a fiasco, artistically speaking? What is the line between a failure and a complete pants shitting? Whatever separates just plain fucking a movie up from inflicting pain on audiences, The Invasion lands firmly on the worst side of it. A terrible movie by any reasonable standards, The Invasion is a wretched mess from start to finish, and it taints the reputations of every single person who not only appears in it, but also goes to see it.
The fortieth iteration of the novel The Body Snatchers, The Invasion opens big, with a space shuttle crashing to Earth, spreading its debris over hundreds of miles of America. It turns out that debris is coated in an alien life form which, in a scene so ridiculous that it should have alerted me to leave the theater immediately, infects the head of the CDC. The aliens this time are a virus that changes our DNA or our brains or something, turning people into subservient, complacent hive mind zombies. If you get a taste of their puke and then get a good night’s sleep, you turn into one of them.
I don’t even want to write about this movie. Seriously.
Originally, The Invasion was directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, the talented Kraut who directed Downfall and Das Experiment. Apparently what he made was not good enough for producer Joel Silver, who brought in the Bros Wachowski and their man Friday, James McTiegue, to rework possibly up to half of the film. What results is a schizophrenic mess; after seeing The Invasion I have no doubt that what Hirschbiegel came up with sucked (there is almost not a single decent FRAME in this movie), but what the Wachowskis and Son did was not any better, and it has the disadvantage of being tonally dissimilar to the rest of the film as well as completely retarded.
I usually relish a movie as bad as this, but today I’m just not in the mood to drown it in snarky jokes – first of all, doing that might make you think the film is worth seeing on a lark, and it’s not. But beyond that I’m so frustrated at the massive waste of talent on this picture. Hirschbiegel is a damn fine director, and even if his version stunk on ice, I’d like to have seen what came out of him. An honest failure is always more interesting than something cobbled together by committee. But beyond him, The Invasion has a collection of fine actors, including Daniel Craig and Jeffrey Wright, who are put in to positions that are nothing short of humiliating. There’s a scene at the end where Wright is forced to deliver a clunky chunk of exposition that makes you just want to grab him tight and stroke his head and tell him that other directors will know how to use him properly.
The one bit of talent that isn’t wasted is Nicole Kidman, and I believe that’s because she already blew through her talent reserves back when she was a Scientologist*. The Invasion is chock full of continuity errors (most likely thanks to half of it being reshot) but the most egregious is Kidman’s ever changeable accent; is she straight American, Southern or Australian? She’ll keep you guessing from scene to scene! And possibly sometimes in the middle of a scene or a speech. It’s lazy acting of the worst kind, and it’s not made better by the fact that the person in this film who looks most like an alien is Kidman herself. I don’t usually go after actresses’ looks, but Kidman’s rigid, unmoving face resembles nothing more than a vanity death mask. While her botoxed mug may last another thousand years, Kidman’s expiration date as a movie star is way past, and it’s time that we all moved on and found somebody willing to take on good roles or at the very least give an honest shot at the bad roles.
I do need to take special note of the editing of this film, which is among the worst I have ever seen, on a basic technical level. But on an artistic level it’s even worse; a number of scenes that the Wachowskis presumably found too ‘boring’ or ‘talky’ are edited with flash-forwards to action scenes that we have not yet seen. It’s a disorienting and stupid technique that serves no actual function except to let the ADD sufferers in the crowd know there’s a car chase coming up. This is not the same thing as having flashbacks to moments that didn’t happen in the film, a sin of which The Invasion is also guilty.
As bad as every single boring, stupid minute of The Invasion is in acts one and two, the film barrels forward into a whole different kind of terrible in the third act, as Kidman and the annoying moppet playing her son are forced into a series of chases that just make no sense. See, Kidman gets puked in the face by an alien early on, so she’s infected. They just have to wait for her to sleep, and that’s inevitable. The kid, meanwhile, is immune to the aliens, thanks to plot distortions so bad they make contortionist yogis jealous. The aliens want the kid out of the picture – there’s no room for the immune in their Prozaced world – but why break such a sweat to get him? Kidman’s going to pass out at some point, so just leave her be. Chasing her through city streets and lobbing fucking Molotov cocktails at her car** will only ramp up her adrenaline and keep her awake!
This movie is so bad that I have no compunction against spoiling it for you: the film ends unlike every single other version of the story, with the aliens losing and everyone who was turned into a pod person waking up and feeling OK, but not remembering any of the invasion. This is actually closer to the original novel’s finale, where the aliens sort of just give up because taking over Earth is way too much of a hassle (really), and on one level I can see where a happy ending to this story is actually shocking – we’re all ready for the big apocalyptic aliens winning finale. But the way it’s done in The Invasion is so banal and so stupid that you wish for the ending of Beneath the Planet of the Apes, where the whole fucking planet just blows up and every single idiot in the film dies. The aliens are defeated in a montage and then we get some annoying flashback voice over hammering home the film’s one and only theme: is it better to be human and fucked up or to be living in peace? This isn’t an unworthy theme to develop if the film had, I don’t know, DEVELOPED it, but the movie just keeps kind of fucking talking about it. When the film ends this way, you can feel the ripple of anger in the theater; I predict this movie would have been received like the first performance of The Rites of Spring… if the entire motion picture hadn’t beaten down and subdued the audience with badness. The only thing that’s interesting about The Invasion is seeing a theater full of people who have just suffered minor brain damage shuffling out into the light like dazed alien zombies.
*One theory on The Invasion, which has Kidman as a psychiatrist whose shorter, powerful husband becomes infected and chases her along with other mindless drones, is that the movie is an anti-Scientology text. This still does not make the inert piece of shit projected on theater screens any more interesting.
** The occasion for the second funniest moment in the film***. Jeffrey Wright is tailing Kidman in a helicopter, trying to pick her up. When he sees the car get nailed with a Molotov and burst into flames, he sighs, ‘Oh no,’ like she just got fucking cut off in traffic or something.
*** The funniest moment in the film, and possibly 2007 cinema (sorry Jonah Hill and Michael Cera!), is when a menacing pod person little Asian kid stands in Nicole Kidman’s way and she tosses him face first into a wooden bed frame. I hooted.