The latest remake of the classic sci-fi thriller "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" -- this time just called "The Invasion" -- takes a genuinely creepy premise and renders it almost ineffective through weak, factory-issued dialogue and a disappointing finale.
It's typical late-summer fare: not bad, exactly, but liable to make you say, "Is that it?" when it's over.
We are plunged almost immediately into the story. An alien virus infects people, waits until they sleep, then turns them into ... themselves. Same body, same memories, but no emotions of any kind. The good news is that without emotions, people become peaceful and passive, with no more murders, rapes, or wars. The bad news is that, well, if you're not possessed by an alien virus, you find those who are to be kind of creepy.
Besides, a human being without emotions isn't a human being at all! I've been saying this about Catherine Zeta-Jones for years.
Our heroine, Carol Bennell (Nicole Kidman, speaking of cool customers), is a Washington D.C. psychiatrist who is first introduced to the idea when a patient, Wendy Lenk (Veronica Cartwright, co-star of the 1978 version), says she thinks her husband isn't himself anymore. She doesn't know who he is, but that man ain't her husband.
(A good psychiatrist would know that there's a legitimate mental disorder called Capgras delusion in which the person believes a loved one has been replaced by an identical-looking impostor, and that Wendy might be suffering from this. But hey, maybe Carol isn't a good psychiatrist.)
It isn't long before an epidemic is under way, with most of D.C. behaving coldly and dispassionately while going about their daily lives. What's more, they want everyone not yet infected with the virus to become infected. They will not tolerate non-conformity on this matter.
Carol and her doctor boyfriend Ben (Daniel Craig) go on the run. There's a safe haven they can get to where scientists are looking for a vaccine, but first they must find Carol's young son Oliver (Jackson Bond), who's currently staying with his father (Jermey Northam), who might be an alien now, but maybe he's just being played by a British actor. (See? This really is too easy.)
This is the fourth time that Jack Finney's 1955 novel "The Body Snatchers" has been made into a film. The 1956 "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" starring Kevin McCarthy is an acknowledged classic; the 1978 Donald Sutherland remake is well-regarded; the 1994 version (called "Body Snatchers") was hardly seen by anyone. And now there is this one. The previous incarnations were products of their time, with parallels to McCarthyism or what-have-you; this one appeals to the fears of the tinfoil-hat crowd, the conspiracy theorists and rabid government-mistrusters. In the film, other countries are actively combatting the virus while the U.S. government is denying it exists -- a scenario that, let's be honest, is actually fairly plausible.
For that matter, with Nicole Kidman frantically trying to protect her child from a virus that turns everyone into emotionless drones, I couldn't help but think of her own escape from Tom Cruise and Scientology. But maybe that's just me.
Much has been written about the film's behind-the-scenes woes, with German director Oliver Hirschbiegel ("Downfall") being second-guessed by Warner Bros., which brought in the Wachowski brothers (the "Matrix" directors) to rewrite major chunks of the script and James McTeigue ("V for Vendetta") to direct some reshoots. The final product doesn't feel disjointed or chaotic the way you'd expect it to after all that tinkering, but it doesn't really come together, either. A few scenes are mildly suspenseful. Quite a few others are laden with extremely helpful coincidences: Hey, there's a useful disguise in the train's bathroom! Look, a cop car we can use! That's not to mention clunky characters like the Russian guy (Roger Rees) who summarizes, in a bizarrely lengthy speech at a dinner party, all of the film's supposedly deep themes.
Silly stuff like that detracts from the movie's tone, which is otherwise completely straight-faced and deadly serious. Kidman, with her kittenish whisper and seeming frailty -- she always looks like she must suffer from Brittle Bone Disease -- isn't quite believable as a butt-kicking action heroine, and the climax is uninspired and watered-down. Plus, doesn't this film have a remarkably similar premise to the last remake Kidman did, "The Stepford Wives"? Maybe there's more to my escape-from-Scientology theory than I thought.