The Invasion

(2007) ** Pg-13
99 min. Warner Brothers Pictures. Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel. Cast: Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Jeremy Northam, Jeffrey Wright, Jackson Bond.

Jack Finney's thrice-filmed 1955 novel The Body Snatchers gets a fourth go-round, this time as a troubled Nicole Kidman vehicle. The good news is that the premise is so unnerving that it's difficult entirely to break; the bad news is that The Invasion displays little in the way of inspiration. Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel (Downfall)—and "fixed" with extensive reshoots by uncredited director James McTeigue (V for Vendetta)—this remake acts like a body snatcher: it goes through the motions.

Kidman plays Dr. Carol Bennell, a Washington D.C. psychiatrist. One day, a patient insists, "My husband is not my husband." Both patient and doctor consider it possible, certainly more likely, that the statement is a metaphor, but when the patient (played by Veronica Cartwright of Philip Kaufman's 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers) recounts her husband snapping the neck of their dog, Bennell doesn't react or suggest contacting the authorities. Rather, she prescribes drugs.

I suppose this scene is meant to be the opening salvo in a wan, picture-long attack on America's culture of prescription, but it has the effect of making Bennell seem more than callous—she seems like an idiot. The effect grows as Bennell slowly learns what's going on and proves incapable of holding it together. While it's understandable that anyone would be reduced to the screaming meemies, this professional woman—one with an endangered child (Jackson Bond), no less—does some pretty stupid things.

Of course, it's easy for those of us who've seen the three previous versions to judge characters slow on the uptake. To fight this effect, first-time screenwriter Dave Kajganich has made some minor innovations. Pods are out—no "middleman" means its literally your own body turned against you. The alien entity is passed through liquid, which means a lot of "scary" projectile vomiting. The changeover still occurs during REM sleep (though the directors occasionally forget it), which means lots of guzzling a certain soda (label to the camera, please, Ms. Kidman!).

The picture's production troubles invite a game of "Spot the Seams," and it certainly seems possible that, left to his own devices, Herschbiegel might have made a more evocative, scary film. If my guess is right, the footage with a green cast and the footage in dim light belongs to Herschbiegel. Brighter footage, action sequences, and the finale smell more like McTeigue. Either way, neither director scores points for verisimilitude: Kidman walks around her family home with nipple-exposing tighty whiteys, and her son wears a red half-mask with his Superman costume, among other odd details.

A spirited dinner debate that feels as if it comes from a totally different film might represent a cutting-room-floor intellectualism. A Russian ambassador critiques pill-popping American culture and hurls epigrams like "A veneer of civility hides our true self-interest." To be fair, there are attempts at giving the story a new resonance (suggesting that being human means war, and therefore going alien promises peace); they just feel like old news.

In the department of effects, it's mostly about the makeup: victims develop what I call "viscous face" and what Bennell's boyfriend Dr. Ben Driscoll (Daniel Craig) calls "some kind of cellular condensation." Guess that's why he gets the big bucks. The production design's by Jack Fisk (Mulholland Dr.), though its hard to enjoy given the film's lack of unity. A lingering shot of a car crashing into a window of faceless mannequins is a sort of nice touch.

The story of a rapidly spreading alien infection that makes people not themselves is supposed to be creepy suspend-your-disbelief entertainment, but, streamlined to 99 minutes and schizoid in style, the film inspires as much eye-rolling as terror, and never more than when Jeffrey Wright's scientist is saddled with the hyper-speed expository, Psycho-esque coda (sorry, still not buying the ending, guys). Through it all, Kidman's psychiatrist is the biggest dolt—err, bolt—in a machine that turns out nothing but phoniness.

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