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Jack Finney’s sci-fi novel The Body Snatchers has been filmed three times before: by Don Siegel in 1956 (see Lounge review, p138), Philip Kaufman in 1978 and Abel Ferrara in 1993. It’s an impressive pedigree, but sadly this fourth incarnation from Downfall director Oliver Hirschbiegel is little more than a pale imitation of its predecessors, bearing tell-tale scars of post-production jiggery-pokery (it has been reported that The Wachowski Brothers wrote new scenes that were then directed by James 'V For Vendetta' McTeigue).
Nicole Kidman is Dr Carol Bennell, a psychiatrist with a little boy (Jackson Bond) and a taste for dodgy British scientists (former hubby Jeremy Northam is a ranking government health official; “best friend” Daniel Craig is a doctor). Shortly after a space shuttle has crashed back down to Earth, Dr Carol’s patients start voicing doubts about their loved ones (“My husband is not my husband…”), while her ex uncharacteristically demands quality time with their son… It’s not long before the good doctors have put two and two together, realising that a mysterious flu epidemic is actually a virulent alien bacteria. Victims succumb to a chrysalis phase during sleep, and wake up new, inhuman beings; physically intact, but emotionally blank – not unlike Kidman’s performance, in fact…
Despite a slew of Iraq references (the alien interlopers soon have the situation under control) Hirschbiegel’s sci-fier doesn’t have anything compelling to say, lifting almost all its more effective moments from the Kaufman version. In any case, these occasional adrenaline spikes are squeezed between bouts of sterile philosophical debate (Roger Rees as a bolshy Russian diplomat) and unconvincing, pseudo-scientific exposition. Several flash-forward episodes only scramble this rehash even further.
Garbled and inconsistent, The Invasion probably needed a warmer actress if it was ever going to work – it doesn’t help that Kidman and Craig have zero chemistry. There’s still just enough of Finney’s resonant fable here to save the film from failure, but it remains a major disappointment.
A strong, proven premise, drained of almost all feeling and personality. Hirschbiegel's Hollywood debut sporadically grips - - but like Kidman and Craig's characters, you'll most likely end up battling to stay awake.
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