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Thriller Without Thrills

Two directors and a rewrite can't save this 'Body Snatchers' remake

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In The Invasion--Hollywood's fourth take on the creepy Jack Finney novel Invasion of the Body Snatchers, about an alien force cloning humans into unified zombies--a sad thing happens: The film starts off as a decent thriller, but then, like the characters within, it goes to sleep and gets infected by a virus.

That virus is called Wachowski, as in the Wachowski brothers, the makers of The Matrix who were brought in by producer Joel Silver to rewrite chunks of the film and the ending. The film was hijacked away from director Oliver Hirschbiegel (the man behind the excellent Downfall) and handed to director James McTeigue (V for Vendetta) for reshoots. There's a very distinct moment in the film where creativity and quality take a nap, and the movie wakes up as a piece of shit.

The premise has changed a bit since the original film. Instead of pods replicating people, it's now a virus passed on through people puking on one another (much like the zombies in 28 Days Later). The virus has arrived on Earth via a crashed space shuttle. People just go to sleep; their DNA is replicated; they wake up as bland as Laura Bush.

Nicole Kidman stars as a psychiatrist Carol Bennell, essentially occupying the role held by the likes of Kevin McCarthy and Donald Sutherland in past versions. I'll say this for her: She hasn't looked this good in years. Bravo to the Hollywood plastic surgeons and the costuming department that put her in that cute sleeping outfit near the beginning of the picture. I'm also very impressed with Nicole's hair. It's silky and shiny, sort of like sun rays cascading from her cute little goddess head.

OK, I've gotten off track. Sorry.

A patient (Veronica Cartwright, who had an important part in the 1978--and best--version) shows up in Kidman's office complaining that her husband isn't her husband. Soon, the streets are filled with expressionless people, and census takers are trying to puke on Kidman at all hours of the night. As it turns out, quite conveniently, Kidman's son is immune from the virus, so that provides the whole Aliens subplot of a woman protecting a child from evil forces. It's also a little on the ridiculous side.

Here's just one of the many things about this movie that bothered me: The pod people (we'll call them that, even though there aren't any pods) claim that the transformation has removed violence from humanity; therefore, the Iraq war and the troubles in Darfur and North Korea come to an end. Yet, the pod people violently and angrily puke on their victims. It's not like they peacefully walk up, shake hands and politely vomit on a victim's shirt: They get a scary expression and spew right into people's faces. They also wrestle with their victims and snap dog necks without remorse. They're pretty damn violent for a nonviolent alien force, if you ask me.

Another thing that bothered me was the sudden shift to high-octane car chases which were clearly not the work of the original director. The movie totally cops out in the end, completely contradicting the gloom-and-doom vision of Finney and the superior film versions. Sutherland's screech at the end of the 1978 version is one of cinema's great endings. This one ends in a way that's supposed to send you home from the multiplex feeling hopeful. That's not what I want from a body-snatcher movie.

I'm curious to see the original cut of this film, the one that prompted Silver to shelve the picture and eventually meddle. It's probably no masterpiece, because there are flaws throughout, but I'm thinking Hirschbiegel might've come up with an ending that was too much of a downer for summer-movie fare. Whatever the case, the ending now stitched on is a discordant mess. It's hard to believe that Hirschbiegel's version could have been worse.

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