MovieMantz Review: ‘The Invasion’

Don’t believe the bad buzz — “The Invasion” is actually a pretty decent movie. It’s not great or anything, but it’s a lot better than I expected it to be. And that’s a pleasant surprise, given all the drama surrounding its production.

It all started a year ago, when the fourth big screen version of Jack Finney’s novel “The Body Snatchers” was originally supposed to come out. But after early preview screenings tested poorly, producer Joel Silver commissioned 17 days of reshoots in an effort to pump up the action. When word of those reshoots leaked out to the Internet, “The Invasion” was pegged as an over-budgeted train wreck. Warner Bros. only added fuel to the fire when it pushed back its release date to late August, generally seen as a dumping ground for sub-par studio films.

Whatever may have been wrong with it before, it seems to have been fixed. Well, maybe not completely fixed, but at least it works. For while there’s no question that “The Invasion” falls short of the scary 1956 original film and the disturbing 1978 remake, it’s still better than the little-seen 1994 version. And regardless of the inevitable comparisons, the latest adaptation stands on its own as an engaging, entertaining sci-fi thriller that’s definitely worth seeing.

In a fierce performance, Oscar-winner Nicole Kidman plays Carol Bennell, a psychiatrist who doesn’t realize that something is rotten in Washington DC (other than the Bush Administration). When a space shuttle disaster showers the area with debris, the people who come into contact with it start acting strange. It turns out that the debris was covered with an unknown substance that attacks them while they sleep, stripping them of their emotions and replacing them with mindless alien duplicates.

By the time Bennell and fellow doctor Ben Driscoll (Daniel Craig) realize what’s at stake, they are hopelessly outnumbered by the hive-like beings quickly taking over the planet. Their only hope lies with Bennell’s son (Jackson Bond), who doesn’t seem to be affected by the powerful affect of the spores. But in order to buy some time to utilize that immunity to find a cure, Bennell must figure out a way to blend in with the invaders, remain calm and, most of all, stay awake.

If “The Invasion” feels a bit uneven, it should — it was directed by two different people at various times over the course of two years. Oliver Hirschbiegel, who directed 2004’s gripping World War II drama “Downfall,” took a first pass in 2005 and infuses the film with an impending sense of psychological paranoia. But about a year later, James McTeigue (“V for Vendetta”) took over for an uncredited polish, during which he added a few car chases to kick up the action. The resulting patch job works, even if it does feel rushed along with under-developed supporting characters and an underwhelming conclusion that lacks the impact of the earlier versions.

But if those adaptations were political allegories of their time, then the newest version also has something to say (though it’s not nearly as subtle about it). At the same time the alien epidemic traverses the planet, the violence ends in Iraq, Darfur and the Middle East. So while the aliens may not have emotions, they don’t suffer either. Kind of makes you wonder who the villains really are here. Not bad for a movie that had such a hard time getting made.

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