Directed by: Oliver Hirschbiegel
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig and Jeremy Northam
Opens: Today, August 31
"The Invasion" is the fourth film inspired by Jack Finney's '50s sci-fi yarn "Invasion of the Body Snatchers."
It's also the least of these films, though that assessment may have more to do with my having seen all the other versions multiple times. Someone not so overexposed to the material may very likely find this a satisfyingly provocative creepfest.
All the "Snatcher" films (the earlier ones hail from 1956, '78 and '93) have the same premise: Citizens begin reporting that their loved ones have changed into emotional zombies. Behind this growing paranoia is an invasion of aliens who absorb our memories (but not our feelings) into new, identical bodies. Their plan is to take over the world, turning it into a sort of stress-free, fear-free (and love-free) beehive.
This time around we have A-list actress Nicole Kidman playing D.C. shrink Carol Bennell (nice touch - Bennell was also the name of the small-town M.D. played by Kevin McCarthy in the original film). Carol has a cute kid named Oliver (Jackson Bond), a fellow physician (Daniel Craig) with whom she has a friendship that might be evolving into something stronger, and an emotionally remote ex, Tucker (Jeremy Northam), who works for the Center for Disease Control.
When a space shuttle crashes, Tucker is called in to study a strange alien spore found in the wreckage. Within days the slimy stuff has spread, overnight turning everyday folk (you need a good night's sleep for the change to take effect) into blank-faced carriers. This mostly silent army of drones works tirelessly to spread the contagion through blood, food and drink, inoculations (ostensibly flu shots) and, most unpleasantly, vomit.
No, there are no alien seed pods generating duplicate bodies. And while the film misses the visual possibilities offered by sinister veggies, let's give credit to director Oliver Hirschbiegel (he made the Oscar-winning foreign film "The Downfall," about Hitler's final hours) and first-time screenwriter Dave Kajganich for trying to break the mold.
They've expanded the "Body Snatchers" mythology in other ways as well. It turns out that little Oliver is immune to the alien bug, despite his infected father's repeated efforts to "change" him. Now the kid becomes key to creating a vaccine - provided his frantic mom can pass for a "changed" person (no matter what happens she can't show any emotion) and stay awake long enough to spirit him to safety.
The movie also dishes some sly political what-ifs. As the spores spread old enemies become like-minded, bound together by the new world order. Old hatreds and passions are forgotten. CNN reports that Pakistanis and Indians are now celebrating a permanent peace plan and we see doctored footage of George W. Bush getting chummy with far-left bulldog Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.
The acting is competent and there are a couple of minor shocks, but the film really exists to pose a moral dilemma. Which is better: the often destructive boiling pot of human emotion or a calm, rational peace of mind in which, at long last, we all get along?