Review: Kidman can't save 'The Invasion'

The original “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” was released in 1956, into an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty. People imagined communists everywhere, and that’s where the McCarthy people looked for them – everywhere, intimidating the nation in the process.

Reports of UFOs and other unexplained events frequently appeared in the news, further destabilizing the national psyche.

In the cold-war science-fiction classic, a doctor observes a growing number of locals turned strangely docile. When he discovers that mysterious “pods” (two-foot cocoons) are robbing humans of their will, he warns the authorities, who remain unconvinced. The victims are all too happy to find themselves emotionally unburdened, so they sure aren’t complaining.

The underlying theme of trading liberty in return for a trouble-free life was certainly applicable to both sides of the adversity of the day. The theories as to whether the movie referred to one threat or the other abound, both supported by a reflection from the protagonist, “….you don’t prize your humanity, until you have to fight for it.”

Either way, the reputed symbolisim addresses the willingness of the populace to submit to forms of mass persuasion, an analogy more currently appropriate to advertising than politics. How else would you explain a long line of zombies, braving inclement weather 12 hours before a store opens, awaiting the opportunity to pay outrageous prices for new technology gadgets or basketball shoes, destined for obsolescence in six months?

In the new remake, simply titled “The Invasion,” an updated and less subtle theme presents a slightly different question, posed at a formal dinner by a Russian (read communist) diplomat: whether we would be happier without the current global conflicts, living in a world of harmony and peace. It's a utopian-flavored vision often associated with leftist politics.

But all of this analysis mumbo jumbo is so-o-o beside the point. If we didn’t have an attractive and well-known star, running for her life, displaying all the vulnerabilities and helplessness associated with women, there would be no movie. And that more than anything else, sums up “The Invasion.”

Dr. Carol Bennell (Nicole Kidman) a psychiatrist and a single mother, begins to first observe something amiss through her practice. This phenomenon coincides with a space shuttle accident, which spread debris over hundreds of miles, preventing any quarantine of the materials.

Although the country is reporting a flu epidemic, a “national emergency” which never quite ties into the story, the doctor, through a number of circumstantial but dramatic coincidences perceives something of far greater gravity. People are starting to exhibit emotional transformations—immunity to provocation, indifference to human tragedy, and calmness in the face of life’s common irritants, large and small.

In league with colleague and love interest Dr. Ben Driscoll (Daniel Craig, the latest James Bond), Bennell discovers that microscopic spores brought to earth by the shuttle, have been invading the body then taking over the mind during sleep. The result yields a physically normal human being, marked by a vacancy of spirit, as though they were forced to watch 24 continuous episodes of Lawrence Welk.

With the government advised, Bennell must locate her young son and get to safety. In the process, her ex-husband Tucker (Jeremy Northam) purposely infects her (by barfing on her). Now that sleep is the only barrier between her and the growing club of the contented, she fights with everything from pharmaceuticals to Mountain Dew.

<p>The most harrowing part of her task involves walking through crowds of the already compromised, who while tranquil, exhibit a fearful evangelism when discovering one of the unconverted, seizing them for transformation. Terrorized and desperate, the doctor’s disguise consists of simply maintaining a dispassionate gaze and an unhurried gate as she navigates the streets through throngs of the brain-scrubbed masses.

Unfortunately, this potentially rich moment falls short. On one hand, Kidman must maintain the tense and bedraggled appearance, befitting an anxious and sleep-deprived mother, afraid for her child. On the other hand her character must convincingly impart a composure and countenance capable of seamlessly blending into the most bland of crowds. It proves an incredibly thin, if not impossible, line to walk.

Somewhere, this movie went awry.

It’s neither philosophically impacting nor exciting. It does not evoke concerns of a pandemic, apparently an original goal.

The production went through two directors and somewhere it lost its soul. “The Invasion” has moments, the production is slick, the cast stoically playing the hand it was dealt.

The upshot may leave you as though infected by a spore and a bit drowsy.

Fortunately the effects are temporary, and you’ll recover your worrisome self, free to fret over sub-prime loans, the middle-east, and the outcome of your favorite star’s visit to rehab.

Grade: D

Lester Gray reviews movies for Read other Examiner critics' reviews.

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