"The Invasion" is the fourth screen adaptation of Jack Finney's watershed 1955 science fiction novel "The Body Snatchers," and it's easily the weakest of the lot.
The first - from 1956 - was a simile for Joseph McCarthy's Communist witch hunts. The second (and best), from 1978, was a metaphor for the '60s idealistic hangover, Richard Nixon and Vietnam. The third installment, from 1993, used AIDS as its springboard.
This latest incarnation isn't sure if its symbolic villain is germ warfare or George W. Bush, so it heaps on bountiful helpings of both. There's a lot of interesting stuff going on in this movie, and if you are familiar with its troubled past, you'll understand why the finished product is so frustratingly uneven.
Credited director Oliver Hirschbiegel ("Downfall"), wrapped principal photography close to two years ago; long before co-star Daniel Craig was even considered as the new James Bond. After viewing the rough cut, Warner Bros. relieved the German-born Hirschbiegel of his duties and turned everything over to producer Joel Silver, the Wachowski brothers ("The Matrix" trilogy) and their "V for Vendetta" director James McTeigue. The new team was tasked with a major overhaul to make the movie more commercial and audience-accessible.
As recently as January of this year, close to 30 percent of the movie's scenes were shot, then cut and pasted in alongside Hirschbiegel's more thoughtful, darker (read: slow, artsy) footage.
The end result is a brilliant character study regularly interrupted by pointless chase scenes and some of the worst editing ever seen in a major studio Hollywood film. You may remember hearing about lead Nicole Kidman being injured during the filming of one of these new scenes.
On the upside, Kidman (as Washington, D.C., psychiatrist Carol Bennell) is fantastic. Soon after realizing everyone around her is being turned into a robotic drone courtesy of an alien virus, Carol spends most of the time trying to save her son Oliver (Jackson Bond) from infection. Carol's ex-husband Tucker (Jeremy Northam), an Atlanta-based CDC executive, was one of the virus' first casualties and one of the most fervent in spreading the disease.
The principal method of escalating the infection - projectile vomiting - is, as one can envision, a little too much of "The Exorcist" and immediately off-putting.
Previewing the film relatively late to the press and abandoning it in the vast wasteland of late August indicates that the studio is still less than thrilled with the final cut. What would be most interesting to see - but will likely never be made available - is Hirschbiegel's original cut. As mentioned, there are the makings of a great film here.
Warner Bros. could be bold and daring by issuing it in the DVD release. The "Body Snatcher" faithful - and there are millions of them - would buy and rent it sight unseen. (Warner Bros.)