All good things must come to an end — in this case, the lucky streak that’s made every adaptation of Jack Finney’s 1955 sci-fi novel “The Body Snatchers” distinctive and effective, until now. Troubled production “The Invasion” — of which the Wachowski brothers reportedly reshot at least a third after helmer Oliver Hirschbiegel’s cut failed to please suits — emerges a slick but forgettable, characterless thriller. Lure of Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig’s first post-Bond role and large-scale PG-13 action-horror could produce OK opening numbers, but steep falloff is guaranteed. Ancillary may drag pic into the eventual black.
Though none has been a box office behemoth, every prior version of this tale has worked on its own terms: Don Siegel’s classic small-town-Americana “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1956); Philip Kaufman’s witty same-named 1978 San Francisco update; “Body Snatchers” (1993), Abel Ferrara’s creepsome military-base take; and even Robert Rodriguez’s gleeful “The Faculty” (1998), an unacknowledged but obvious transcription that cannily turned alien possession into another form of high school peer pressure.
Perhaps auds will eventually get to see what German helmer Hirschbiegel, making his English-language feature debut, and scenarist David Kajganich intended in director’s-cut DVD form. Purportedly it was offbeat, politically barbed and quasi-documentary in style. Those qualities are MIA in the current “Invasion,” whose occasional nods to earlier versions (Veronica Cartwright, memorable in the Kaufman version, has a brief role here) only serve as a reminder of how much better they were.
The disintegration of a space shuttle making unplanned re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere leaves a trail of debris that turns out to be contaminated with highly contagious alien spores. Among the first infected is Center for Disease Control honcho Tucker Kaufman (Jeremy Northam), who’s thus in a position to help the pandemic swiftly infiltrate government, media, police and other social infrastructures. Thus, what’s publicized as a mere “dangerous flu virus” is in fact turning people into emotionless automatons whose first priority is to entrap human holdouts.
Tucker’s ex-wife happens to be Washington, D.C. psychiatrist Carol Bennell (Kidman), who’s not pleased when, after years of disinterest, he suddenly wants to see their young son, Oliver (Jackson Bond). She reluctantly drops the boy off for a sleepover, then spends the evening at a diplomats’ dinner party on the arm of Ben Driscoll (Craig), a doctor who’d like to be more than her best friend. Returning home late that night, she’s nearly home-invaded by a scary alleged census worker.
The next day, almost everybody seems weirder — and after just 40 minutes, the movie starts unsubtly inserting jump-cut flashbacks (then flash-forwards), as if auds couldn’t be trusted to catch already obvious clues that something is amiss. Carol is imperiled in successive overblown chase sequences, trying to recover Oliver (who’s conveniently immune to the infection) with allies Ben and his colleague Dr. Stephen Galeano (Jeffrey Wright).
While earlier interpretations made Finney’s premise metaphorically vivid, this “Invasion” feels like a self-canceling mix of creative and commercial decisions.
It’s a clever touch that backgrounded news reports show all global conflicts neutralized in the wake of the pandemic. But in the end, pic seems to awkwardly suggest war and violence as primary things that “make us human,” a message one doubts the director of Hitler drama “Downfall” intended. Conversely, there’s rote injection of family-values sentiment as a primary narrative drive (“No one touches my child!” yelps an armed Kidman as she blows away several replicants).
Since the spores take over during sleep, Kidman at least has stay-awake exhaustion to play. But neither she nor Craig, who has relatively few scenes, can make their dully written characters compelling. As is often the case, Northam is the best thing here, though even his deft, sinister underplaying can’t salvage a scene in which Tucker acts like a stereotypical bad-ex-husband rageaholic, despite conversion to zombiedom.
Tech and design contributions are pro but fail to create any unique atmosphere, suspense or visual interest. Perhaps the sole distinguishing element in this “Invasion” is that it provides a new transmission route oh-so-characteristic of our filmic era: projectile barfing.