Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Invasion - out now. (*****5/10)

The Invasion is a remake, yet again, of the 1950s classic sci-fi horror film Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, a film that has been done many times, in many different ways, including an excellent 1978 remake featuring Donald Sutherland. The basic premise here is that aliens are invading Earth, and doing so by taking over the bodies of humans. In this way, no one can tell that the aliens are here - they still look like the same people. But their loved ones and people close to these people begin to notice. Those people are somehow different. You see, they seem to have lost all capacity for emotion. And it's easy to spot emotionless people when you are close to them. This leads to some creepy scenes without the need to have some kind of high-tech computer generated monster spitting venom at the screen, or an actor of Anthony Hopkins' calibre talking about fava beans and Chianti. All you really need to be creeped out is real people who can register no emotion and convey an icy demeanor.

Enter Nicole Kidman. No one does icy demeanor and cold-fish emotionlessness better than Nicole Kidman. She looks like a china doll, as though her features have been carved out of some kind of fine china, and might shatter if she smiles or frowns. And that's when she's being interviewed. One big problem with the 2007 edition of The Invasion is that Kidman does not play the leader of the emotionless drones who take over the world. That is a role that would suit her immensely. Yet she plays the emotional centre of the movie, for some reason. The only scenes where she is truly convincing are the ones where she must blend in with the invaders by acting emotionless. Another big problem with The Invasion is that there is nothing terribly interesting about it. Daniel Craig plays Kidman's best friend, with some romantic tension, but nothing really develops there. Kidman's son is the catalyst for the proceedings, as he has been taken by his father, and Kidman must get him back before hiding out in the safe zone away from the steel-faced mobs. Her ex-husband, the child's father, fills the role of the big villain in the film, as he is perhaps the First Person Infected, and therefore the Most Evil.

During the shooting of this movie, there was a well-publicized accident during a car chase scene. A car (with Kidman inside) slammed into a wall with six or seven stunt men hanging onto it. The headlines in the papers - Nicole Kidman survives scare! The details in the reports were that Kidman had suffered only minor scrapes and bruises. Ummm...what about the stuntmen? They must have been completely smashed up, right? They were hanging onto the car, it crashed into a mention of them. I tried to do some research on this to include here in the review. Other than the fact that two stunt men had to be hospitalized, there was no information about them at all. I assume broken bones, smashed ribcages, horrible injuries. But who knows? And this is in a way another problem with the movie. Only Nicole Kidman matters. Daniel Craig exists mainly as her driver. Jeremy Northam exists only to put a bad-guy face on the "invaders", and Jeffrey Wright has a part that could be fairly interesting, but takes up only about three minutes of screen time.

Wright is a scientist and doctor who can solve the problem of the epidemic. The key to stopping that epidemic is finding Kidman's son, who seems to be immune to the infection. I guess they will just mulch him up, synthesize his remains, and create an antidote that will be administered to the emotionless masses by means of an army of crop dusters. Who knows. The climactic scene is nerve-wracking for a moment, but loses all the momentum it has right at the end, leading to something of an anti-climax. The one thing I will say about the movie is that it is a bit of a throwback to those classic horror sci-fi films of the 50s, (like the original Bodysnatchers) and attempts to make a social commentary at the conclusion of the film. It comes off as a bit heavy-handed, since early in the movie there is a Russian diplomat inserted into the story for the express purpose of making that social commentary. Was there anyone who didn't think his words would come back to seem prescient? No. By the way, during that scene, Kidman is praised for her intelligence in shooting down the theories of this diplomat, but she does so by making statements that have nothing to do with his. It's like someone says to you "I think abortion is the murder of babies". And you say "I once burped a baby, and he was grateful". And then people say "what a brilliant way to win that argument!" What?

As far as modern horror or sci-fi movies go, The Invasion is in the middle of the pack. Far below The Descent and The Host and 28 Days Later, far above Resident Evil and Stay Alive and The Village and Lady in the Water. But all that means is that sci-fi fanatics might find it worthwhile just because they will watch anything in that genre. Really, this movie is made for rabid fans of Nicole Kidman, who want to watch her run around, pretend to talk smart, and get into her underwear several times. That's the target audience, that's who should watch this film.

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