Aug 20, 2007

On The Invasion

A veteran, mid level European director comes to the states after his biggest continental success, a powerful recounting of the final weeks in the life of perhaps the 20th centuries most notorious and vilified man, and after dutifully remaking “Invasion of The Body Snatchers”, what happens? The suits take it away from him. Bummer. Indeed, this is what happened on “The Invasion”, action producer extraordinaire Joel Silver’s newest Warner Bros./Village Roadshow bankrolled extravaganza, an empty headed but viscerally entertaining Alien invasion thriller that doesn’t quite live up to Don Siegel, Philip Kaufman or Abel Ferrera’s versions, but isn’t the car wreck one would expect from a movie that might as well bear an Alan Smithee directorial credit.

Although a third of the movie was re-shot following its January 06’ wrap by none other than James McTeigue, last seen directing the heinous “V For Vendetta”, also from an overcooked Wachowski Brothers script (they did the Silver ordered rewrite after principal photography), “The Invasion” isn’t pure hack work. Nicole Kidman dutifully plays a D.C. psychoanalyst and mother, her ex-husband (Jeremy Northam) having abandoned the family for the top job at the CDC in Atlanta, her anti-depressant intake high enough that she can’t get hip to the charms of Ben (a miscast Daniel Craig) her plutonic scientist friend who takes her to dinners at the Czechoslovakian embassy where she can announce grandly to Russian diplomats that she’s a “postmodern feminist” in a scene that the Wachowski Brothers surely though up as a way to hammer home the film’s barely realized themes concerning the nature of identity. The line only draws an unintentional laugh from a small segment of the general audience and a dull, blank stare from just about everyone else.

After a space shuttle crash leaves “contaminated” debris across the Red states, which in turn unleash Alien spores across America that quickly infect Northam and other CDC officials, Americans are ordered to get vaccinations to avoid a deadly and mysterious “flu”. As spouses, children and employers become emotionless automatons that really want to give you a beverage, Hirschbiegel/McTeigue load their mise en scene down with allusions to the various plights of early 21st century life, be it war, nuclear proliferation, genocide or tight skirts, all courtesy to overdoses of MSNBC hovering in the background. While neither happens to be Michel Haneke, the TV as symbol of postmodern doom hangs heavy in the narrative. The symbols are all in play, but what do they add up to, especially when Nicole Kidman starts shooting people, hitting her pod infected Ex’s with hammers and drinking absurd amounts of Mountain Dew? What are Daniel Craig, Jeremy Northam and Jeffery Wright doing in this movie when all they get to do is functionally inhabit non-characters? The opportunities wasted are copious, especially in this conformist post 9/11 American political environment in which we all live. Yes, humanity essential byproducts are strife and horror, but why all the fuss. “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” went from Communist parable to post Nixon critique to AIDS metaphor and now it’s back just to sell some ancillary rights.