Invasion of the goodness snatchers

With every remade film I take in, I ask myself “Why?” Or to be precise, Why is this story relevant and in need of retelling? If I were more pragmatic, I’d probably be asking myself, How much money stands to be made from this tried-and-true tale? Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds suggests itself as a successful revamp on both counts: box-office hit and topical, post-9/11 rumination. It is an anomaly.

During Oliver Hirschbiegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake (and his English-language debut) The Invasion, once again I found myself asking “Why?”

“Why? Why? Why?”

Like Frank Oz’s The Stepford Wives (another recent rehash in which Nicole Kidman gave a similarly stiff performance), The Invasion is superfluous and confused. One senses that screenwriter Dave Kajganich had a vague idea of why a yarn about the earth being overtaken by pestilence would be pertinent for our times (as we await the next flu pandemic) — too bad he accidentally made an argument for the alien plague.

Honestly, it’s not like we cared about the walking-stick characters before they were infected, anyway. Kidman (who I’m a fan of) is extraordinarily lifeless — largely due to absurd dialogue — and as badly miscast as Tom Hanks in the The Da Vinci Code. (Her earthier counterpart, Naomi Watts, would have been preferable.)

But, like it or not, Kidman is Carol Bennell, the D.C. psychiatrist and mother on whom The Invasion centers. When her young son (played by towheaded Jackson Bond) and his friends discover a strange, skin-like jelly with their Halloween candy, she’s quick to take it to her best friend (and perchance love-interest), scientist Ben Driscoll (Daniel Craig, who between Invasion and this December’s The Golden Compass will have logged quite a few working hours with Kidman.)

Earlier, Bennell’s ex-husband Tucker (Jeremy Northam), a government worker, was exposed to a strange object found attached to a crashed space shuttle. As he slumbers, he is enveloped in the same skin-like jelly (not exactly a pod), and the next day he awakens a new man, a blanker man, which is a pity, because you don’t hire Jeremy Northam for nothing. He commences attempting to reconnect with his estranged son as a means to spread the alien plague. Other infected individuals essentially do the same, and soon Bennell and her son are in the minority, trying to escape to safe haven. But frankly, why shouldn’t they give in? The new race has put an end to war, nuclear weapons, and the Darfur tragedy.

Without a radical change in plot (I’m thinking Strangers on a Train/Throw Momma from the Train), there’s no sense of surprise in The Invasion, and furthermore, no point. Bennell and Driscoll’s moments of “Aha!” are too easily earned. (Even Dr. Grant’s realization, “Hey, some South-American frogs can switch genders!” in Jurassic Park is more credible). The slickness of the production (complete with rewrites and re-shoots courtesy of the Wachowski Bros and James McTeigue) can’t offset the soullessness of The Invasion, whose existence, come to think of it, might have more to do with the profitable resurrection of the zombie subgenre than bird-flu panic.

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