- The Washington Times - Friday, August 17, 2007

The 1956 science-fiction classic “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” used alien spores to comment on our collective fear of communism.

Turn the dial ahead two-plus decades, and the 1978 thriller of the same name used the motif as metaphor for our fear of public officials post-Watergate.

So it’s a cinch “The Invasion,” the latest spin on Jack Finney’s novel, would tackle terrorism, the biggest fear of our era.

Nope.

Avoiding terrorism in a modern “Body Snatchers” remake is like doing a zombie picture without the undead or a vampire flick without faux blood.

“The Invasion” uses a flu pandemic as its entry point, but really it’s about a mom (Nicole Kidman) trying to rescue her son from an alien infestation.

Not a terrible theme on which to hang a thriller, but what a waste given the ripe subject matter.

Miss Kidman plays Dr. Carol Bennell, a District psychiatrist trying to be a good mom to her son, Oliver (Jackson Bond). When her ex-husband, Tucker (Jeremy Northam), calls to request that Oliver stay with him for a few days, Carol gets suspicious. Tucker never makes such suggestions.

Her ex isn’t the only one acting out of character. One of her patients (Veronica Cartwright, who starred in the 1978 “Invasion”) insists her husband isn’t acting like himself.

In fact, the whole “my wife/brother/aunt isn’t my wife/brother/aunt anymore” idea still raises goose bumps, and this “Invasion” rides it for all it’s worth.

Soon, both Carol and her seemingly platonic friend Dr. Ben Driscoll (Daniel Craig) realize something is different about their friends and neighbors, and it could be connected to the space shuttle disaster that brought the ship’s remains crashing to earth a few days back.

Enter fellow doctor Stephen Galeano (Jeffrey Wright), who examines some mysterious tissue found by Carol and pretty much solves the entire puzzle.

Though today’s mainstream thrillers rarely have the nerve to be subversive, that’s no excuse for “The Invasion” talking down to audiences as if we’re a misbehaving group of third-graders.

Awkwardly framed news accounts tell us the Iraq occupation is ending, the crisis in Darfur is over, and North Korea has agreed to end its nuclear ambitions, all thanks to the kinder, gentler aliens.

Then, in case the message of how brutal humanity is doesn’t hit you hard enough, a dinner sequence featuring a cranky Russian diplomat (Roger Rees) hammers home the point.

As Ben, Mr. Craig makes a craggy, credible love interest. That’s a far cry from Mr. Wright’s character, who should have been dubbed Plot Explainer Man. Every time he’s on screen it’s as if he’s narrating an audio book to accompany the movie.

The less said about the last 15 minutes the better, but suffice to say whatever gravitas the solid setup generated has long since vamoosed.

“The Invasion” underwent significant changes before its release, and it doesn’t take a microscope to see the stitches. At times, the film itself stops and starts, an annoying technique meant to spike the tension. It only makes the film appear desperate for momentum. In other sequences, the editing is so choppy we’re not sure what the desired effect might be.

“The Invasion” could have been a revealing deconstruction of life in the age of terror. Instead, it’s a textbook case of a remake lacking the brains and guile of its predecessors.

**

TITLE: “The Invasion”

RATING: PG-13 (Violence, mature themes and adult language)

CREDITS: Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel. Screenplay by Dave Kajganich based on the novel by Jack Finney.

RUNNING TIME: 99 minutes

WEB SITE: http://theinvasionmovie.warnerbrothers.com/

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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