Many will look at Oliver Hirschbiegel
's The Invasion, the fourth film treatment of the '50s novel The Body Snatchers, with an eye towards what came from the director of Downfall and what was added later by a series of studio-mandated reshoots, supervised by the Wachowski Brothers and their V for Vendetta
surrogate James McTeague. They'll have to look hard, and then hopefully write detailed analyses on the internet. If McTeague and the Wachowskis ran major interference for the studio, they did so with mafia-level efficiency and brutality; hardly a trace of European art-movie evidence remains.
The finished product doesn't even particularly resemble V for Vendetta, which at least gave plenty of screen time over to stylish allegory; frankly, I'm not sure if there was much left to ruin here. McTeague and company may have called a redo on over half the film, as some reports claim, but that figure doesn't match with my own informal statistical data: well over 80 percent of The Invasion is pure (if slick) boilerplate. If Hirschbiegel was up to something smart or thought-provoking, Warner Brothers should have a whole other movie on its cutting-room floor. Article continues below
Whatever its origins, this version tosses in some background audio meant to invoke current events (pandemics, terrorism, the Iraq war), but mentioning politics isn't the same thing as addressing them. Ideas (mainly about the self-destructiveness of human nature) are verbalized, briefly, but never visualized, deepened, explored, or tied together in a way that could resonate for more than a second or two after the lights go up; pod-like smooth surfaces reign.
This is not to say that The Invasion comes through as a dumb thriller, either. At the outset, the filmmakers fail to find tension in the body-snatching so central to the story. When normal humans are taken over by an alien virus that renders them emotionless and hive-minded, it doesn't take an intimate familiarity with the previous incarnations of Body Snatchers to know that something is wrong, both within the world of the movie (these things obviously aren't human) and outside it, in the audience (these things are so obvious, they're not scary).
There are some quiet, tense bits based around the opposite concept: that once the invasion hits, humans must pass for emotionless pod-people in order to escape capture and/or transformation. For a few minutes at a time, the film finds some chills: Nicole Kidman
, playing a psychiatrist traversing DC and Baltimore to fetch her imperiled son, creeps along sidewalks and subway cars, trying not to cry or shriek or even sweat, attempting to put up an impenetrable shield of conformity.
Kidman is the movie's lead, and as wonderful as she can be, she's not made to play the everywoman that audiences identify with in this story. Her character's nervous imitation of an icy pod person is more convincing than the actress's nervous imitation of Jodie Foster
as a loving/avenging mother. The casting in general seems designed to bore the actors into submission; why else would anyone enlist the gifted character actor Jeffrey Wright
to play a B-movie-style scientist who speaks entirely in exposition?
More egregiously, the film has Daniel Craig
, noted badass, playing a dull, even fumbling doctor engaged in a not-quite-relationship with Kidman. Craig is one of the best actors to ever play James Bond, but this film (partially filmed before Casino Royale
) helps him recall his Bond predecessors in the worst way, giving him a nothing part perfectly suited to Timothy Dalton in 1988 or Pierce Brosnan in 1994.
With Kidman, Craig, and Wright given more room for eccentricity, this could've at least been a snappy, perverse B-movie -- maybe even, dare to dream, a thought-provoking take on old material. But while The Invasion moves along with a certain low-level efficiency, over and out in 90 minutes, in the end it's not even a fascinating, Frankensteinian failure -- just a TV movie with talented actors, a zombie movie without blood, a dead-eyed body with human beings trapped inside.