“Endospore” is the fancy name given to DNA-altering goop from outer space in The Invasion, the third, and worst, official remake of 1956’s classic sci-fi chiller Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
Unlike the chunky pods of old — from which emotionless alien clones sprung before killing their sleeping human counterparts — this “endospore” needs no storage unit. It’s a virus that spreads when aliens yak in humans’ drinks and wait for them to fall asleep, which activates a DNA change.
Sounds creepy, but American allegory — the Cold War, homogenization of society and military-complex mistrust — always has been the real bogeyman of these pod-person tales. Perhaps it’s why director Oliver Hirschbiegel was drawn to a 21st-century update.
Having navigated the hive mind of the Third Reich’s last days so chillingly in Downfall, Hirschbiegel achieves some unsettling atmospherics and bleak-humor touches before the movie is wrestled from him. (More on that later.)
The invasion is masked as an epidemic against which to be “inoculated,” complete with government propaganda. Hirschbiegel gets a nicely calibrated, brief performance from child actor Eric Benjamin as a creepy pint-sized informant named Gene. And the movie has reverse-product placement: Mountain Dew and Pepsi won’t keep you awake when you need it most.
But enormous gaps in narrative and credibility sink freshman writer Dave Kajganich’s script, as well as an unfocused exploitation of numerous social and political nightmares that draws no jitters.
Whatever’s underlined or italicized in his script about New Orleans, Darfur and Iraq (The Invasion, get it?) comes through on screen while never evoking true unease. (That the aliens’ plan might be beneficial toward “human” existence is a third-act twist with which the movie does little.)
An awful lead performance from Nicole Kidman doesn’t help. Her characters have become as interchangeable when in distress as Ben Stiller’s when he’s a romantic neurotic. If she’s not more careful with her mainstream roles (of which she hasn’t had a good one since 2001), Kidman might one night fall asleep and find her career replaced by Meg Ryan’s.
As her still-human psychiatrist Carol Bennell roams the streets of Washington, D.C., searching for her son — who holds the genetic key to stopping the onslaught — it’s not hard for Kidman to blend in with blank-slate stares of alien replacements. Her readings are dead and passionless anyway, especially next to Daniel Craig. As an affable doctor with a torch for Carol, his blue eyes pierce the flimsiest material. He’s believable, even with that shaggy Duran Duran reunion tour haircut.
Also screaming ’80s is the silly car-chase finale, reportedly re-shot at the request of Warner Brothers without Hirschbiegel’s input. The Wachowski Brothers (The Matrix) and their in-pocket director pal James McTeigue (V for Vendetta) allegedly concocted the final reel, clearly shot, scripted and acted like nothing that’s come before it. Aliens sprint like the zombies in 28 Days Later, and Carol’s car is besieged by suit-clad men all dressed like Agent Smith from The Matrix.
There are no pods to be found in The Invasion, other than one off-screen into which better judgments of most involved here must have been stuffed.