Newest 'Invasion' misses its chances

Posted: August 17, 2007

It's too obvious, perhaps, but I think director Oliver Hirschbiegel missed his chance in The Invasion, a feverish remake, starring Nicole Kidman, of the oft-remade 1950s sci-fi horror classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

As alien spore, brought to Earth via a crashed Space Shuttle, works its viral way through the populace, people become indifferent, emotionless - walking down the street oblivious to the poverty, homelessness and crime all around them.

It's like they've been enveloped in their own little worlds, as if they are . . . yes, plugged into iPods. They've become iPod people!

But while Hirschbiegel - making his English-language debut after gaining Hollywood's attention with Downfall, his adrenalized take on the final, furious days of Adolf Hitler - works in some Apple product placement (Kidman uses an iBook), there are no iPods.

Worse yet, there are no pods.

Fans of Don Siegel's 1956 original, Philip Kaufman's 1978 re-do, and Abel Ferrara's 1994 Body Snatchers should gird themselves: as the extraterrestrial virus spreads across the land, warping the DNA of slumbering masses, all that happens is that the infected get clammy, and icky bits of gelatinous goo cling to their skin.

Then they wake up, take a shower, and go about their business: a crowd of soulless conformists doing the work, and buying the stuff, that makes the country hum.

If The Invasion is about anything other than jumpy chases, rampant paranoia and projectile vomiting (that's how the organism is transmitted), it's about personal freedom versus social control and government/corporate guardianship. That's a big, amorphous "about" - kind of what The Bourne Ultimatum touches on between its jumpy chase sequences and rampant paranoia. (The two films also share a breaking-into-a-pharmacy opening scene.)

But The Invasion is mostly about delivering thrills, and chills, and this it does with moderate success and a bunch of fast, no-nonsense edits. As Carol Bennell, a Washington psychiatrist, Kidman speaks softly, carries a big prescription pad, and relishes her time with her cute little son (Jackson Bond). Dad (Jeremy Northam), a government disease-control honcho, has moved out - the exes are haggling over visitation rights, and it's no surprise that one of the first of the movie's players to come down with this insistent new "flu" strain is the slick, sinister former spouse.

But will handsome and resourceful colleague Ben Driscoll (Daniel Craig) manage to stave off infection to help Carol? And what about that tech-talking immunologist played by the ever-cool Jeffrey Wright?

Actually, with its ironic references to the war in Iraq (U.S. troops pull out!) and a chummy agreement between President Bush and Venezuelan lefty despot Hugo Chavez, The Invasion seems to suggest that if we all just zoned out on Zoloft, there would be an end to war, to conflict, to criminals.

But then there might also be an end to movies about plucky heroes - and plucky heroines - fleeing from threatening mobs and dark conspiracies, overcoming their own fears and custody battles to save their kid, and save the world.


The Invasion **1/2 (out of four stars)

Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel. With Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Jeremy Northam and Jeffrey Wright. Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures.

Running time: 1 hour, 33 mins.

Parent's guide: R (violence, profanity, adult themes)

Playing at: area theaters


Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://go.philly.com/onmovies.

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