The Invasion

un film de Oliver Hirschbiegel

In this day and age of feed-the-fear 24-hour news channel talking heads piously pontificating about bio-chemical warfare and politicians waving the flag in fear of the threat of Anthrax and all its ilk, and with a veil of terror tossed over our eyes as if to lull/agitate us into a lemming-like state of constant anxiety, the old ideas brought forth by Jack Finney's "The Body Snatchers" (already adapted three times for the big screen) takes on an all-new sense of urgency that can only be described as a post-9/11 foreboding of doom. You can tell this is true by the slap-dash editing of The Invasion, fixating upon its own kind of frenzied cinematic apprehensions usually so reserved for nouveau-zombie flicks and Brit-gangster pics.

This tale of alien's over-taking our bodies while we sleep and "replacing" us with emotionless Stepford-esque mannequins, certainly does not have the moody feel of Don Siegel's tense 1956 adaptation, which admittedly or not was surely a cinematic metaphor for the veiled threat of Communism, as this is an attempt at metaphor for everything from Jihad terrorists to wall-leaping aliens of a more Southernly dimension, and rightly so it should not be as good of a film. Though occasionally perky, The Invasion is a ham-handedly put together, hyper-tensive Hollywood star vehicle (for a couple of stars who seem to be after nothing but a paycheck - acting even before any inevitable transformation to pod person as bored spectator) trading in its cognitive cap for a typically modern sledgehammer and turning terse metaphor into action-packed roller-coastery, and thus plays out as an ever-ascending crescendo of cliche upon cliche upon cliche, almost as if it is subliminally scored by Ravel's Boléro, placed on eternal loop.

And forget about the maddening editing for a bit and take an instance of quiet discussion (and attempt at philosophy 101) as yet another example of blatant blusterfucked bludgeonry. One character early on, ensorcelled by his own cartoonish Russian accent (seriously, at one point I fully expected him to suddenly leap from his chair and yelp "must kill moose and squirrel!!"), laments about how peace is not possible because that would surely entail humanity to stop being human. This is the sort of irony this film attempts to throw at its audience (and in case you forget the scene, it was repeated in voice-over flashback during the film's fatally flawed finale) and though perhaps the crux of the film may have a sense of bitter truth clung tenuously to its bones, one ends up with a sense of discountenance, feeling both exploited by its audacity and annoyed at its lack of daring.

To compare The Invasion with another cinematic treatise on humanity's struggle to stay human and keep on keepin' on, this latest version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is not unlike the most recent Spielberg-helmed incarnation of Orson Welles favourite bedtime story, War of the Worlds. Just replace the snarky smugness of L. Ron Hubbard's loudest (and craziest) poster boy, the action figured Tom Cruise, with, well, with his own ex-wife, playing vapidly against type (c'mon Nicole, unlike ex-hubby, you are better than this) and follow that up by replacing one obnoxiously precocious blonde moppet (the insufferably adorable Dakota Fanning) with another, almost equally precocious blonde moppet (the up-and-coming excruciatingly adorable Jackson Bond), both of whom handedly out act their respective adult counterparts/parental units, and you have this overwraught, underthought, ultimate let down of a blockbuster wannabe.

Sure, there may be the occasional giggle or two, albeit usually at the expense of the film's attempted-in-vain dramatic underscore, but this film nonetheless is too full of herky-jerky jump-cuts and flash forward fakeries to be taken as seriously as it seems to take itself. Though, even with these flaws - and many others - it is certainly head waters above and beyond some of the more audacious Summer ding-dongs that readily get spewed forth by the factory farms of sunny southern California and its valley full of dream factories. Jeremy Northam, for instance, is actually quite enjoyable in his rather underused capacity as pod person vanguard extraordinaire, dead eyes set forth in the distance, as if looking right through you, finally able to use his typically bland personality - or lack thereof - for the common good.

Then, in the end, after its mounting ridiculousness has compounded beyond repair, we get to watch its pat, dare I say cheap, out of character finale, all the while seeming as if after taking the effort to make the semblence of a taut socio-political thriller hidden beneath the guise of sci-fi-horror, German-born director Oliver Hirschbiegel (2004's legitimately and claustrophobically intense Downfall) had himself been "replaced" by a doppelganger of his very own. Of course that aforementioned doppelganger is none other than the studio itself as, the story goes, Hirschbiegel, after being wooed by Hollywood and its big bucks waving in the jet stream, was flatly dropped from the proceedings due to his refusal to hand over the film "they" wanted, and was hastily substituted for by those club-footed Matrix-makers, the Wachowski brothers and their paramour/prodigy James McTeigue, who proceed to drive this already teetering-on-the-edge chestnut home in the most cowardly, anti-climatic and slickly boiler-plate manner imaginable, as if it were less scared of the alien invasion than of its own test audiences. [08/18/07]