A space shuttle explodes in the sky and rains debris all across America. But wait – what's that icky stuff clinging to the wreckage? Could it be microspores intent on turning humans into a race of zombies?
"The Invasion" is yet another adaptation of Jack Finney's classic 1955 science fiction novel "The Body Snatchers." After Don Siegel's 1956 "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," and Phil Kaufman's equally classic 1978 remake, this new mutation has a lot to live up to. The filmmakers probably felt the same way: To distance themselves from the competition, they've shortened the title. Maybe the next director to rework this material will call his film "The."
In this go-round, the chief non-pod protagonist is Carol Bennell (Nicole Kidman), a Washington, D.C. psychiatrist whose estranged husband, Tucker (Jeremy Northam), just happens to be a top level official with the Centers For Disease Control. He also was one of the first investigators at the crash site and got slimed by that sticky stuff.
Tucker has been something of a deadbeat dad to his young son Oliver (Jackson Bond) but suddenly he wants to help the boy. To Carol, this turn of events is almost as unnerving as Tucker's newfound Zen calm. At the same time, one of her patients (Veronica Cartwright) tearfully confesses that her bullying husband has changed overnight into a placid stranger.
Instead of initiating group therapy sessions for women whose husbands have turned into zombies, Carol turns to her doctor friend Ben Driscoll (Daniel Craig), who doesn't buy the official line that what's going around is just a new form of flu. Squinting through his microscope, Ben's colleague Dr. Stephen Galeano (Jeffrey Wright) confirms the worst: "One thing's for sure – it ain't from around here."
You may have noticed that the acting talent is top drawer. (For good measure, Roger Rees shows up playing – what else? – a Russian ambassador.) The director, Oliver Hirschbiegel, made the excellent "Downfall," the Hitler-in-a-bunker opus that was like a high-art zombie picture.
You may also have noticed that "The Invasion," which has been gathering dust on the shelf and was completed before "Casino Royale," is being released in August – a dead zone for major studio movies. (Reportedly, the Wachowski brothers did some uncredited reshoots.)
How bad is it? Bad enough – and yet this source material has such a high creep quotient that, on some level, it still scares. The 1956 version was wildly interpreted by Deep Thinkers as a metaphor for the McCarthyite Red Scare, and the 1978 version was a Vietnam/Watergate metaphor, although setting the pod people scenario in San Francisco at the height of the human-potential movement was a satirical masterstroke.
In "The Invasion," we are constantly bombarded with TV news flashes about warfare in Iraq, Kabul, Darfur. As the Snatchers take over, the news becomes happier – Iraq is cleaned up, George W. Bush and Hugo Chavez reach an oil accord, crime is down everywhere. Being a pod person, even though they seem more menacing here than their peacenik reputation warrants, has its advantages.
In fact, the pro-pod arguments that Tucker and the others offer up to Carol are so persuasive that you wonder why she doesn't enlist. Is it because, as a rule – though less so here – Kidman's acting is already a bit pod-like?
But Carol, who attempts to flee with Oliver to safety, is an old-fashioned heroine. At times, "The Invasion" comes across as a mishmash of "Rosemary's Baby" and "The Stepford Wives." (Kidman starred in the remake of that one, too.) The film's message is straightforward: Better the derangements of humanity than the blandness of zombiedom. Fatherhood may come in for a trouncing in "The Invasion" but motherhood survives intact. Grade: C
• Rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images, and terror.