Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Invasion': Bomb Away, By Kurt Loder

The most interesting thing about this picture, of course, is its backstory. The German director Oliver Hirschbiegel, best known here for his grim, Oscar-nominated Hitler movie "Downfall," seemed an odd choice to helm a remake of a sci-fi story that had already been done to a turn in at least two of three previous films (including Don Siegel's classic 1956 original). Hirschbiegel's version, shot in 2005, was found wanting by producer Joel Silver, who called in his friends the Wachowski brothers to do some uncredited rewriting and summoned their directorial protégé James McTeigue ("V for Vendetta") to do some extensive reshooting, including a ludicrously ill-considered new ending.

The picture is creepy, effectively distilling the paranoia engendered by an invisible alien invasion that's quickly turning the populace into dead-eyed pod people (although the actual pods of Siegel's film, which spawned the term, have been discarded here). There are some nicely eerie details, too: When the extraterrestrial spores start spreading from the debris of a space-shuttle crash, for instance, the government is suspiciously prompt in producing a vaccine with which to begin compulsory inoculations of every citizen.

Mainly, though, "The Invasion" is a tedious squandering of its two stars, Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig, who in any event have no chemistry. (Not that they need any, really: Fairly early on Kidman's psychiatrist, Carol Bennell, decides that a romantic relationship with Craig's Dr. Ben Driscoll isn't in the cards, and that's that.) The movie has been assembled with eccentric abandon (it opens with a flash-forward), and some of the scenes, not surprisingly, seem ill-matched to the rest of the picture. After a bit of dutiful exposition in the beginning, the film devolves into a chase flick, with Carol and her little boy (Jackson Bond) in endless flight from pod pursuers, led by her newly weird ex-husband (Jeremy Northam). There's also quite a bit more car-crashing than one might think strictly necessary for this material.

Apart from a few effective jolts (like Carol's ominous encounter with a late-night census-taker), the movie is limp and uninvolving. Veronica Cartwright, who appeared in Philip Kaufman's 1978 "Body Snatchers" remake, turns up here to deliver a meandering plaint about her podified husband, and to re-create Kevin McCarthy's frantic alarm-sounding scene from the Siegel movie (which McCarthy himself had reprised in the Kaufman film). And Jeffrey Wright, another worthy actor wasted, is on hand solely to explain everything to us (the nature of the alien spores, the search for an antidote, and so on and on).

Kidman has rarely given such a remote and emotionally shuttered performance — she actually seems to be ticked-off about being involved in this listless debacle (the reshoots must have been especially irksome). And Craig, who's not around all that much, always appears to be on his way to somewhere else (a better movie, no doubt) whenever he does put in an appearance. Oh, Lord, we think, in mounting desperation — if only we could go with him.

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