Nicole Kidman's ex-husband can't understand why she can't be more involved in the things that are important to him. He and his high-powered friends are part of a new group, strangely cultish and stridently exclusionary when it comes to those not on board. They are trying to remap the world population in their vision. Overhaul your personality, follow the way they want things done, and life will be so much better for everyone. Sure, there are alien overlords hiding out somewhere waiting to take part in all of this, but let's not discuss that right now. Right now it's about Nic and her man, and why can't she see the future? He wonders, is it the pills everyone is popping, numbing them like so much shallow, dimwitted entertainment starring big name Hollywood actors?
No, you haven't wandered into a biopic about the Tom Cruise/Nicole Kidman marriage, you've joined The Invasion!
Yes, I'm being glib, and The Invasion is actually another remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, because even though they got it right the first time back in 1956, there's nothing that can't be improved with age. Besides, this one has Jeremy Northam holding down his once beloved Nicole and puking on her in order to become one with her, something I think every little girl has been dreaming of since Northam wooed Gwyneth Paltrow as the impossibly dreamy Mr. Knightley in Emma. It's almost like someone's been reading my diary.
Resistance is futile, and so is my plot synopsis, since we all pretty much know how this goes. After the Space Shuttle Patriot breaks up in the Earth's atmosphere, scattering pieces of itself all over the United States, an infectious alien spore is released into the air. People who catch the disease go to bed as themselves but wake up as emotionless, wickedly boring retreads of who they once were. Jeremy Northam is Tucker Kaufman, who is some kind of diplomat but also some kind of pharmaceutical shill, and he's one of the first infected. His ex-wife is Carol Bennell (Kidman), a loving mother and compassionate psychiatrist who is friends with handsome doctor Ben (Daniel Craig), but she's steadfastly avoiding any follow-through on the long sessions gazing into each other's eyes the two share. Could it be that she's afraid of emotion herself and this sudden removal of passion from everyday existence is going to teach her something about opening her heart?
Not bloody likely. That would actually mean The Invasion has a point, and to try to find meaning in this stillborn mess is like trying to find corn in a turd. Even if you uncover something you think is a yummy vegetable nugget, there's no discerning of its true nutritional value. Don Siegel's original Invasion managed to inject some relevant social subtext into the B-movie plot line, weaving a metaphor for the 1950s Red Scare and McCarthyism; director Oliver Hirschbiegel, who left Germany and such fascinating films as 2004's Downfall in order to sell his soul to Hollywood, gives us no such political commentary (unless it really is about Scientology taking over the world...). It's not like our current political climate doesn't try to get everyone to shut up and conform or anything useful like that for the fillmmakers to work with. Hirschbiegel is laboring here with first-time screenwriter Dave Kajganich, as well as, apparently, the V For Vendetta team on studio-imposed reshoots. Had they maybe been able to get on the same page together, they would have made a smarter movie and named their space shuttle Patriot for a reason.
Instead, The Invasion is an exercise in cinematic paradox. Edited to move quickly and jump over anything even remotely like exposition, the movie seems to speed by any pesky explanation of what is really happening and plunge right into the takeover. And yet, once it is in there, The Invasion takes forever to move forward. When Carol figures out something is wrong and wants to rescue her son (Jackson Bond) from the clutches of his evil father, she tells us she's panicked, but really does so rather calmly. Though we're supposed to see this distinction between the cold and unfeeling others and the regular humans, with their quirks and foibles and uncontrollable emotions, everyone around Carol is particularly nonchalant about their predicament. It's a good thing they accidentally stumble on the solution to stopping the epidemic, because otherwise they'd never get around to looking for it.
Weirdly, when there finally is a little bit of action, Hirschbiegel cuts all of the exciting chunks out of it. One minute Ben and Carol are in her office looking through medical records, the next they've already completed a car chase and Ben is dropping her off on the corner of Nowhere and What The--? The resultant feel of the movie is pretty bizarre. As the audience, we are in the position of knowing the premise of The Invasion and thus always one step ahead of the people on screen--except somehow, when the characters actually make a mental connection that advances the plot, they do so without ever showing us Point A or Point B, they're just suddenly at point C, making the viewer feel like he or she is a step behind. I suppose it's safer to say that no one really knows anything about any of it.
And clearly this script wasn't greenlit by people who can actually read, but instead just had it explained to them. I really wonder what kind of mechanism Nicole Kidman has in place for choosing her big budget commercial projects. How is it that one of our finest actresses keeps making such crap. First Bewitched and The Stepford Wives, and now this? There needs to be some major housecleaning over at Chez Kidman. If her people were really looking out for her, they'd at least have gotten a Botox product placement for The Invasion. It could have been a great plot point. You see, the alien virus is sophisticated enough to take over our planet in a matter of days, but not so sophisticated that it can detect whether or not you are infected by anything other than sight. So, to fool one of the snatched, you just have to go blank and show no expression. When Carol breaks into the pharmacy to find stimulants to keep her from falling asleep, she could have injected herself full of Botox so that her face could move even less than Kidman's already does. Problem solved! If your muscles are paralyzed, emotions shemotions. No one would even be able to tell how excited the actress was to suddenly be getting her supply for free!
Then at least someone would have gotten something out of this witless disaster.
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with Joelle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent projects include the futuristic romance A Boy and a Girl with Natalie Nourigat; Archer Coe and the Thousand Natural Shocks, a loopy crime tale drawn by Dan Christensen; and the horror miniseries Madame Frankenstein, a collaboration with Megan Levens. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.