August 23, 2007

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The Invasion (PG-13)
The worldís population starts to turn into complacent, unemotional drones (not unlike, say, most office workers by mid-afternoon) after an alien virus starts to spread in The Invasion, an uneven update of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Tucker (Jeremy Northam) is a top cheese at the Centers for Disease Control and therefore one of the first people called when a space shuttle comes barreling back to earth, breaking apart into a jillion pieces scattered across the eastern half of the U.S. as it crashes. On those jillion pieces, Tucker and his crew learn, thereís some kind of spore-like virus-thing. Tucker in particular learns this the hard way after getting pricked with a piece of shuttle detris. While he sleeps, his skin turns all gooey, covered in alien shmutz. When he wakes up, the goo is gone but heís left with an eerily calm disposition and a desire to give people drinks. It seems that suddenly many people across the country are speaking in even, robotic tones of voice and pushing beverages on their more emotional acquaintances.

Tuckerís ex-wife Carol (Nicole Kidman), a psychiatrist, has a patient whose husband seems similarly Al-Gore-like and beverage-focused. She just prescribes the woman another drug but as strange things begin happening, she starts to wonder if her friend Ben (Daniel Craig), a doctor, is right in suspecting that the symptoms and a super-flu that the government claims is spreading have something to do with each other.

Eventually, more people than not appear to be Stepford-like and intent on making others so. With the help of a fellow scientist (Jeffrey Wright), Ben and Carol figure out that to keep from changing into these Borg-like creatures themselves they must show no emotion, try not to sweat and, most of all, stay awake ó REM sleep is where the change from human to Decepticon happens. And they try to rescue Carolís young son from the potentially en-alienating clutches of his father.

The Invasion teaches us valuable lessons, including donít let your vaguely evil-seeming ex-husband sneeze his green mucus on you and donít drink conference room coffee. Snacks at large conferences and government meetings have always seemed a little suspect to me but it never occurred to me that the waitstaff might be spitting mind-control contagion into them.

Bottled water might be destroying the environment but at least it doesnít turn you into an alien.

Parts of The Invasion offer bits of interesting creepiness. Spore-containing-mucus-laced coffee aside, the spread of this alien threat isnít so different than the spread of a less exotic but more deadly biological agent might be. Thinking about this and all the ways you canít protect yourself from a mass infection gives the movie a needed note of scariness. And Kidman, though possessing of an at-times faulty accent and not nearly as convincing in her role as crazed mom as Jodie Foster was in the paranoiatacular Flight Plan, is decent enough as the last human in her right mind.

But these occasionally interesting elements and some fancy camera work (director Oliver Hirschbiegel and his editors apparently really like the fast cuts and the artfully shot flashbacks) donít quite add up to the big spooky that The Invasion needs to be. Having decided to go more for post-9/11 freakout than alien camp, The Invasion needs more suspense than the kind of score-directed ďboosĒ it leans too heavily on here. It halfheartedly picks as its theme the peaceful hive versus the messy warring individual but doesnít do nearly enough to develop this wisp of an idea into one coherent thought, much less some kind of commentary on society.

The Invasion clearly wants to be one of those alien movies where we realize that the alien is us or some such freshman-philosophy-class-essay nonsense. But instead, itís an alien movie where what we really see is not the aliens or the fear of the aliens or the impact of fear on society but running. A whole lot of running. And while I found myself curious about how Kidmanís character could run as fast as she does in high heels and a narrow pencil skirt, that kind of suspense (Will the heel break? Will the skirt tear? Gasp, will her turtleneck choke her to death?) just isnít enough to carry a movie. C-

Rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images and terror. Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel (with additional uncredited directing by James McTeigue) and written by David Kajganich from the novel The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney, The Invasion is an hour and 36 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Warner Bros.