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The Invasion

A Tedious Return to Alien Nation

In The Invasion, the latest take on Jack Finney’s ageless sci-fi novel The Body Snatchers, a disintegrating space shuttle re-entering earth’s atmosphere showers the American countryside with highly contagious alien spores. Before long, the world is overtaken by emotionless drones in human form, slaves to a collective will who offer global peace -- in exchange for our souls.

It’s a frightening but strangely tantalizing premise, adapted to the screen most famously in Don Siegel’s menacing classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and later in Philip Kaufman’s campier 1978 remake, set in San Francisco. Both films spoke in simple, terrifying terms to the effects of complacency and mass hysteria, as a race of pod people steals the very essence of our humanity with disquieting ease.

There are no pod people in The Invasion, but its message is clear enough: Individuality and free will, and all the conflict that arises from them, are preferable to widespread mind control at the hands of soul-sucking aliens. (Fair enough, but who’s arguing?) Otherwise, The Invasion, unlike its superior predecessors, is neither ironic nor satirical. It exists merely to scare, and in that regard, it is only sporadically successful.

From the opening frame, there is a building sense of paranoid dread, as wives watch their husbands turn into expressionless monsters and children sense an unsettling disconnect from their parents. The government initially attributes the trend to a flu-like virus; Carol Bennell (Nicole Kidman) suspects otherwise, and spends the rest of the film trying to rescue her son (Jackson Bond) from a growing army of automatons.

And yet, despite the impressively tense atmosphere fostered by the film’s opening act, there is too little in the way of payoff. Once The Invasion runs out of fresh or at least entertaining ideas -- roughly around the halfway mark, when German-born director Oliver Hirschbiegel’s vision gives way to studio-commissioned edits by the Wachowski brothers -- it settles into a monotonous groove of close encounters sandwiched between violent and wildly improbable car chases. In the end, it limps toward a conclusion that is foregone but messy, wasting a stellar cast that includes Kidman, Jeremy Northam and the current 007 Daniel Craig.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars