Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2007

Keep it down: ‘Invasion’ is all cosmic goo

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The Invasion

Rated R. 93 minutes

Sci-fi

Cast: Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Jeremy Northam, Jackson Bond, Jeffrey Wright, Veronica Cartwright

Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel, James McTeigue

Typically Jeremy Northam seems a trustworthy sort, but the actor’s forthright manner is twisted into something sinister when his character, CDC Director Tucker Kaufman, is among the first to be infected by cosmic goo. It’s one of ‘‘The Invasion’s” more effective stunts because Northam’s upright demeanor renders an unusually understated, mind-controlling alien. The notion of an advanced life form in suspended animation, patiently drifting through interstellar space, is one of science fiction’s more goose pimply themes. The more we learn about the vast diversity within our universe, the more plausible such ideas become.

While workaholic Kaufman’s transformation into a highly placed hive-critter is chilling, the fretting of the director’s ex-wife Carol (Nicole Kidman) about Kaufman’s sudden interest in exercising his neglected visitation rights with their young son Oliver (Jackson Bond), lacks credible motivation. Kidman appears trapped by her fragile as porcelain femininity, failing to convey any justification for Carol’s concern as the actress practices a girlish pose. Therefore, when Carol conveys her concern for a patient’s well-being by cooing ‘‘And how does that make you feel?”, how you feel is like giggling. Kidman’s characterization fails to summon any sense of urgency until Carol finally realizes her ex-husband is an alien and the actress replaces her dreamy lack of focus with a wild look of dedicated maternal instinct, all else be damned.

Unlike the superior 1978 version, where alien seeds first grew into lovely, exotic flowers, this third screen adaptation offers no blossoms, plants or pods to explain the ease with which it makes human contact. Reduced to goo, the alien parasite penetrates any handy orifice, rapidly converting the sleeping infected to its cause. In turn, newly converted aliens spread the parasite by vomiting onto the faces of or into otherwise perfectly good coffee, drunk by the uninfected.

Vomiting as a means to spread the parasite is so successful — particularly when providing unintended laughs is concerned — that in a couple of days, nearly everyone is transformed. Those failing to ‘‘convert” are identified by the emotions they exhibit. They are then captured and encouraged to sleep so the parasite can transform human DNA during the REM cycle.

Carol’s son is one of the lucky few resistant to the parasite. Oliver’s immunity prompts scientific investigators to examine his medical history in search of a cure. Government officials, presumably infected early on, claim the outbreak is nothing more than a mild flu virus. If the film is attempting to comment on the government’s tendency to lie, the effort fails to register. By somewhere around chase no. 4, we could use some of the drugs Carol employs to stay awake ourselves.

Although both emotionally and physically wrong for the role, Kidman’s commitment to it allows her to retain some measure of dignity — if not much success.

The producers and studio, unhappy with the initial results, brought in a second team of writers and another director who re-shot and re-edited much of the film. What began as brooding science fiction morphs into an action zombie flick and finishes with a happy Hollywood ending. No prescription needed for this over-the-counter sleep aid.