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E Pluribus Unum: The Invasion Remake

The Stop Smiling Film Review

(Warner Bros.)

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Friday, August 24, 2007



The Invasion
Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel
(Warner Bros.)

Reviewed by Nick Pinkerton

The Body Snatchers, Jack Finney’s 1955 sci-fi novel, is now seeing its fourth go-around on American screens. And though I’m not sure that you can make a wholly bad movie from this raw material — there’s an atavistic genius to the formula — the latest incarnation comes close. The Invasion, as practically everyone has noted, is the least-indelible of the Body Snatchers films; there is nothing to rival the preternatural precision and mounting paranoia of Don Siegel’s 1956 original, Philip Kaufman’s attunement to the San Fran milieu of his 1978 film, or the sensual, burnished air of Abel Ferrara’s 1993 take. Part of the enjoyment of viewing and re-viewing these Invasion movies, handled as they are by a procession of notable filmmakers, is the pleasure of hearing a classic tune reinterpreted by a host of great singers. The films have a fine, respectful rapport with one another, borrowing scenes, bits of dialogue, an actor (Siegel’s star, Kevin McCarthy, shows up for a cameo in Kaufman’s film), or a trope (the unforgettable sucking “point-and-screech” of the 1978 film, used also by Ferrara).

What does this latest Invasion add? Well, there is the slightly tweaked title card — though, where Ferrara’s truncated title, Body Snatchers, served his film, intimating that the seeds of conformity came from within, the colorless choice of The Invasion seems only like a transparent attempt to cover up redundancy. There is the questionable innovation of the infected now spreading their blight by means of projectile vomit, mercifully underutilized. The action here is moved inside the Beltway, taking place largely in metropolitan Washington DC, which allows for one effective scene on the Metro, and one incredulous conversation at an embassy dinner where a dyspeptic Russian is kind enough to succinctly outline the film’s theme (underlined with a reprise before the closing credits). The film’s protagonist, played by Nicole Kidman, is a psychiatrist here, which offers some fumblings toward Prozac Nation relevancy; she’s also a single mother, allowing for totally charmless rapport with a child actor. But if I’m honest with myself about what I will remember of The Invasion in six months time, it is this: Ms. Kidman’s ass, a monument worthy of Bernini (or Kubrick, for whom it was a final muse), vacuum-wrapped into a skirt. It’s difficult to know where to assign blame for this Invasion. The film’s production history was troubled, with original helmer Oliver Hirschbiegel (Downfall, Das Experiment) apparently supplanted by Wachowski Brothers rewrites and new scenes shot by their protégé, James McTeigue. But if plaudits are due anywhere, they should go to costume designer Jacqueline West (who also has barely-registering co-star Daniel Craig model a nice jacket).

Predictably, the result of the film’s “too many chefs” inception is a bit of a mess. The Invasion keeps up a wired pace throughout, sprinting past exposition, never letting a scene settle in, flickering past set-ups, trying to subsume everything in sheer momentum. As such, it covers far more ground than its predecessors did in comparable time. Instead of contenting itself to observe the “change” of a contained community (“Santa Mira, CA” in ’56, ’Frisco in ’78, a Southern military base in ’93), The Invasion follows the progress of a worldwide epidemic through judicious use of doctored newsclips that illustrate the signing of historic peace accords and a disintegration of national boundaries, as contentious humanity is replaced by a race of harmonious, passionless invaders. The idea of “buildup” is effectively dispensed with in the rush — maybe it was decided that the story was familiar enough already — and the movie relies instead on the relentless thrill of the chase to goose the crowd before lapsing completely into standard-issue pyrotechnics, replete with stunt drivers caroming through the atmosphere. You can also enjoy occasional seizures of timeline-jumbling editing that serve no discernible purpose other than to inject “edginess” (bear in mind that Point Blank did “avant-garde” action cutting fully 40 years ago, and those moments actually gave expressionist resonance to scenes rather than just arbitrarily reshuffling them).

I can say without any great excitement that the movie is better than its reviews: As straight-ahead, propulsive, reptilian-brain action, it “works” as often as not. But it’s unworthy to stand with its predecessors. This being the age it is, its best chance to be fondly remembered is when pared down into an animated .gif outtake of Ms. Kidman scampering down a hallway, shot from behind.

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