A film divided cannot stand -- and so it is with Oliver Hirschbiegel's English-language debut, The Invasion, a coolly cerebral update of the sci-fi staple Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Infamously wrested away from the director of Downfall and retooled with amped-up action scenes courtesy of the Wachowski brothers and director James McTiegue, The Invasion unfolds as both a high-minded thriller and an adrenaline-charged action flick that cribs shamelessly from the likes of 28 Days Later and Dawn of the Dead.
The gleaming cast of stars -- Nicole Kidman, a pre-James Bond Daniel Craig, Jeffrey Wright, Jeremy Northam and a handful of notable supporting players -- is in place, but Dave Kajganich's screenplay (adapted from Jack Finney's novel) is too diffuse, a more likely culprit for problems that Hirschbiegel's work behind the camera. You're often left wondering if you blinked and missed a bit of plot, since the film seems to skip around, darting from one tense set-piece to another with little to connect the two.
The Invasion follows D.C.-based psychiatrist Carol Bennell (Kidman), a woman whose relationship with Taylor Kaufman (Northam), her ex-husband is a bit strained, but for the sake of her precocious son Oliver (Jackson Bond), she copes. The world suddenly seems a bit odd to Carol, something that she can't quite put her finger on -- her best friend Ben Driscoll (Craig) notices the peculiarities as well -- but feels threatened by. Soon, Carol and Ben are facing the dire, mysterious threat head-on, running for their lives and hoping to find some way to extricate themselves.
There's plenty of allegory to be found here -- lots of carefully placed, background soundbites about American involvement in Iraq or global unrest -- but the cranked-up action scenes (which play as though they've wandered in from a different film) sabotage any of Hirschbiegel's noble intentions. The cast is largely wasted -- how anyone manages to misuse Daniel Craig is mystifying -- and the whole enterprise slams to a halt with a rushed, contrived resolution that feels like the filmmakers just threw their hands in the air and called it a day.
The Invasion wouldn't be so maddening if it weren't for the few, effectively creepy scenes that are placed along the way like a tantalizing promise -- for every skin-crawling shock, you're rewarded with deadly dull dialogue or an inane car chase. Re-tooling this flick as some kind of brainy multiplex thriller was a colossal miscalculation and grossly unfair to Hirschbiegel, whose aims, although obscured here, are worth seeing uncluttered by fireballs and flying bullets. I'm hopeful that an alternate, more contemplative cut of The Invasion may yet surface. For now, this version is worth only cursory attention.
The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer looks great throughout, with no discernible defects. Befitting a recently filmed production, The Invasion boasts rich, opulent color saturation and crisp, vivid detail that provides gut-churning clarity in some of the film's ickier moments.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track gets the job done, rendering the car crashes, explosions and gunshots with clarity and oomph, while conveying the dialogue cleanly and free from distortion or drop-out. Optional French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks are also on board, with optional English, French and Spanish subtitles on hand as well.
Unsurprisingly, none of the creative forces behind the film show up to offer any kind of explanation or clarification for exactly what they were thinking -- The Invasion sticks with relatively vanilla supplements: "We've Been Snatched Before: Invasion in Media History" is an 18 minute, 50 second featurette (presented in fullscreen) that explores the film further; the two minute, 53 second featurette "The Invasion: A New Story" examines the screenplay; the three minute, 21 second "The Invasion: On the Set" goes behind the scenes and the three minute, 12 second "The Invasion: Snatched" details the themes of the film.
The Invasion wouldn't be so maddening if it weren't for the few, effectively creepy scenes that are placed along the way like a tantalizing promise -- for every skin-crawling shock, you're rewarded with deadly dull dialogue or an inane car chase. Re-tooling this flick as some kind of brainy multiplex thriller was a colossal miscalculation and grossly unfair to director Oliver Hirschbiegel (making his English language debut here), whose aims, although obscured here, are worth seeing uncluttered by fireballs and flying bullets. I'm hopeful that an alternate, more contemplative cut of The Invasion may yet surface. For now, this version is worth only cursory attention. Rent it.