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Few movies come into the market as radioactive as “The Invasion.” Bloggers declared the movie DOA months ago. Even its studio, Warner Bros. Pictures, didn’t give the film a premiere, despite a starry cast of Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig.
The film was intended as the English-language debut for German director Oliver Hirschbiegel, who made “Downfall,” the utterly compelling dramatization of the last days of the Third Reich. After production wrapped in early 2006, the Wachowski brothers of “Matrix” fame were brought in for reshoots. They in turn hired their “V for Vendetta” director James McTeigue to direct new scenes they wrote.
One can play the game of who shot what and how a potential masterpiece of creeping paranoia was ruined by Hollywood suits forever. But what we have is this: an involving sci-fi action-thriller, probably longer on chase sequences than the original director wanted and shorter on the “ick” factor than the studio wanted.
Unless pre-word-of-mouth already has sullied the title beyond redemption, “Invasion” should see a solid two weeks of boxoffice in theatrical release, both domestic and foreign, and then establish itself as a robust title on DVD.
This is, as you probably know, the second or third remake — depending on what you count — of Don Siegel’s 1956 sci-fi classic “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” Based on the novel by Jack Finney, that film deservedly is credited as being one of the screen’s pre-eminent commentaries on the McCarthy era in America. This new version, scripted by David Kajganich, makes a feeble stab at contemporary relevance by interjecting President Bush, Iraq, Darfur and Hurricane Katrina into the mix through background news reports. But in this version at least, this political context a nonstarter.
What “Invasion” — like all its remakes and imitators — has going for it is a mortal fear of microbes, going as far back as the Black Plague or as current as AIDS. And there is always that anti-establishment tone in the material, which sees government, police and all authority as untrustworthy. This time a space shuttle cracks up on re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere and strews wreckage across America along with a strange substance. All the scientists know is that “it ain’t from around here.”
The film’s protagonist, somewhat arbitrarily, is Carol Bennell (Kidman), a shrink. A patient complains that her husband is not her husband. Emotionless people stalk the streets. Her beloved son Oliver (Jackson Bond) comes home from Halloween trick-or-treating with this strange substance in his candy.
She takes the substance to an infatuated doctor friend, Ben Driscoll (Craig), who immediately gives it to lab technician Galeano (Jeffrey Wright), who right away knows something is wrong. Meanwhile, the government and media report that this is nothing more than a flu strain.
To cut to the many chases, a spore from outer space is attacking human DNA while people sleep and usurping their bodies. This is seen in hooky 3-D animation inside the body that looks like those Let’s Learn Chemistry exhibits at Disneyland many years ago. Swiftly everyone around Carol and Oliver turns into pleasant though malevolent humanoids.
Carol’s estranged husband, a doctor at the Centers for Disease Control who already is a humanoid, forcibly infects Carol. On the run, searching for Oliver, who turns out to be mysteriously immune, and linking up with the dashing Driscoll, Carol has the main goal of staying awake for as many hours — or days — as it takes to reach the safety of unaffected humans.
This involves chases, car crashes, shootings and hideouts as she gulps uppers. What is never clear is why the humanoids think this shrink and her son are so important. They still have the rest of the world to infect.
From the peeks at “the Hirschbiegel movie,” one can perhaps glean amid all the action that the director — who still is the director of record — appears to have wanted a much more claustrophobic film, a paranoid nightmare about a frantic need to stay awake rather than sleeping oneself into a placid, lotus-eating nonexistence.
Maybe some day Warners will release both versions on DVD. For now we have an effective action thriller that only hints at the psychological complexity the director might have wanted.
Warner Bros. Pictures
Warner Bros. Pictures presents in association with Village Roadshow Pictures
a Silver Pictures production in association with Vertigo Entertainment
Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel
Screenwriter: David Kajganich
Based on the novel by: Jack Finney
Producer: Joel Silver
Executive producers: Roy Lee, Doug Davison, Susan Downey, Steve Richards, Ronald G. Smith, Bruce Berman
Director of photography: Rainer Klausmann
Production designer: Jack Fisk
Music: John Ottman
Costume designer: Jacqueline West
Editor: Hans Funck, Joel Negron
Carol Bennell: Nicole Kidman
Ben Driscoll: Daniel Craig
Tucker Kaufman: Jeremy Northam
Galeano: Jeffrey Wright
Oliver: Jackson Bond
Wendy Lenk: Veronica Cartwright
Dr. Belicec: Joseph Sommer
Ludmilla Belicic: Celia Weston
Yorish: Roger Rees
Running time — 99 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13
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