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By Pete Vonder Haar | August 20, 2007

“The Invasion” is the fourth filmed adaptation of Jack Finney’s “The Body Snatchers,” though it’s unlikely to make anyone forget Don Siegel’s classic 1956 version. Indeed, comparing this latest effort to Siegel’s, or the 1978 remake for that matter, is a lot like comparing home run hitters from different eras: interesting from a conversational standpoint, but not very illuminating. Modern-day horror is so formulaic and ‘juiced’ with computer effects it’s practically a different genre. And besides, the omnipresent nature of remakes in today’s cinema depends on the assumption that the average person buying a ticket to “The Invasion” hasn’t even seen Donald Sutherland pointing and shrieking at Veronica Cartwright or Kevin McCarthy telling us we were next (unless it was in one of those shitty Bravo specials), much less Abel Ferrara’s underrated 1993 version.

Some aspects of the latest are familiar, of course. Here, as in the others, Earth is threatened by an alien infestation replacing normal humans with soulless copies. In ’56 they used pods. In “The Invasion,” interstellar spores have hitched a ride on a doomed space shuttle. The spores prove impervious to the heat of reentry, and in spite of the government’s best interests (surprise), they escape quarantine and start taking over the population by rearranging our genetic code in a way that would sound completely laughable outside the context of a movie in which pollen from outer space is out to conquer humanity.

And even then, it sounds pretty ridiculous.

As more and more people are taken over, the few remaining unaltered humans are stuck trying to evade capture, hiding their feelings in order to pass as emotionally detached aliens. Those who have actually been infected, like Washington D.C. psychiatrist Carol Bennell (Nicole Kidman), have the added chore of trying to stay awake, as the spores do their thing while the infected person is in REM sleep. Together with her BFF Ben Driscoll (Daniel Craig), Bennell has to rescue her seemingly immune son Oliver from the clutches of his extra-terrestrially compromised father Tucker (a sluggish Jeremy Northam) and spirit him to a military base where, hopefully, a cure can be found.

The behind the scenes troubles plaguing “The Invasion” – specifically Warner Bros.’ decision to “enhance” director Oliver Hirschbiegel’s original cut with James McTeigue-helmed action scenes – are well known. And as is the case in most such situations, the final result is a mess. Scenes end abruptly or transition from location to location with no explanation, while attempts to make a statement about current times, as in earlier versions, feel extemporaneous. In 1956, the allegorical Cold War threat came either from Commies or McCarthyists, depending on who you ask (though Siegel denied it). In 1978, it was urban alienation. Here, the hypothesis is that peace in our volatile world may not be possible due to our inherently violent natures. I’m not a psychiatrist (and Bennell isn’t much of one either, by the looks of things), but the concept is fairly hoary, even for science fiction. Still, some of the film’s best moments come from the news snippets showing peace treaties between India and Pakistan, or Bush and Hugo Chavez exchanging a warm embrace.

But brief forays into shallow psychoanalysis eventually give way to the expected foot chases, car chases, and an ending that manages to recall both “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai” and “Escape from New York,” and not in a good way. Any “Downfall”-like sense of foreboding Hirschbiegel might have brought to the movie has been wiped away, leaving mere incoherence. Then again, Kidman is no Bruno Ganz. One gets the impression that her insistence on wearing tight sweaters and appearing braless in her opening scene is some kind of statement of defiance for the recently turned 40-year old actress, though her suspiciously unlined face is perfect for someone attempting to appear emotionless. The character of Ben could’ve been played by anyone, though it was probably a coup to get the new James Bond on board, and Jeffrey Wright is wasted as the doctor racing against time to find the vaccine. The only mildly interesting bit of casting comes from bringing Cartwright back (as one of Bennell’s patients). I realize horror remakes are with us for good, but maybe four and out is a good philosophy for anyone considering yet another “Body Snatcher” film.

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