Sunday, 14 July 2024

Tepid 'Invasion' a jumbled sci-fi thriller


As a film critic, I find it helpful to enjoy as many cinematic genres as possible. The attraction of horror and science fiction often eludes me, and films of this type rank near the bottom of my interest, though they are still more appealing than anything starring Barbra Streisand or Ben Affleck.

One of the well-recognized great science fiction films is “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” released in 1956, one year after publication of Jack Finney’s classic “The Body Snatchers,” the novel which launched a franchise of several movies on the same theme.

The latest version is simply named “The Invasion,” and it may or may not prove of interest to audiences who have enjoyed the earlier films.

For reasons alluded to above, this review of “The Invasion” avoids comparative analysis to any of its predecessors. Then again, looking to the past is unnecessary. After all, why shouldn’t a film stand on its own merits?

Well, that may not be entirely helpful to “The Invasion,” a science fiction thriller that heavily mixes in other elements, including action befitting a “Die Hard” film and horror that belongs in a film geared to more visceral thrills than psychological drama. The film is at its best when the mysterious alien invasion strikes a creepy note of psychological paralysis, as more people succumb to an epidemic of soul-snatching transformation.

“The Invasion” begins when a space shuttle explodes upon descent, scattering pieces across rural Virginia. While authorities seize quick control of the situation, stories emerge about a strange substance found clinging to the wreckage – something that withstood the extreme cold of space and searing heat of reentry.

Those exposed to the substance are quickly transformed, and one of the first officials on the scene is Tucker Kaufman (Jeremy Northam) from the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. His estranged wife is Washington, DC psychiatrist Carol Bennell (Nicole Kidman), who begins to notice even more bizarre behavior in some of her patients, particularly the frightened Wendy Lenk (Veronica Cartwright).

As government officials declare that a new form of flu is gripping the nation, Carol is disturbed that many strange things are happening, such as more people on the streets acting like zombies and Oliver coming home with Halloween candy that contains a very strange substance. She’s even more apprehensive about her estranged husband’s sudden desire to exercise his rarely used visitation rights with their young son Oliver (Jackson Bond).

Confiding to best friend and fellow doctor Ben Driscoll (Daniel Craig) that something is wrong, she finds it hard to accept reassurances that everything is OK. Soon enough, her suspicions are confirmed by another colleague, Dr. Stephen Galeano (Jeffrey Wright), who is working with other scientists in an underground effort to find a cure to the insidious alien substance.

Meanwhile, humans are being transformed rapidly by the alien invasion into pacified zombies who wander aimlessly and quietly like automatons. The disease is transmitted easily by a sneeze or other bodily discharges. The only way to fight the infection is to stay awake, because apparently it only takes hold when a person succumbs to REM sleep.

Carol gets infected and has to go on a desperate chase to find Oliver, who conveniently enough suffered some sort of childhood malady that now makes him immune to the alien contagion. Of course, this is where the film veers off into the action territory, with Carol driving in a high speed chase with the type of skill that you would expect from Matt Damon in one of his “Bourne” movies.

Much of the screen time is consumed by Carol searching for her missing son, with some tender moments spent with Ben in a relationship that could soon move beyond the platonic stage.

Through most of the film, Nicole Kidman, looking particularly radiant and beautiful, keeps herself together well enough to look like she could be shooting a fashion spread in a women’s magazine. Befitting the requirements of the storyline, Kidman is appropriately down and dirty when necessary. Nevertheless, there’s a nagging feeling that the actress is out of place in this misguided adventure.

Far from being a lost cause, “The Invasion” is at its best when exploring the psychological dimensions of rampant paranoia. The best scenes involve attempts to fool the authorities during routine encounters. To update the action to the present, “The Invasion” tosses in random newscast references to political hotspots around the world, suggesting the alien transformation’s effect indeed has a global reach.

Tim Riley reviews films for Lake County News.


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