German director Oliver Hirschbiegel's notoriously troubled version of Jack Finney's 1955 novel The Body Snatchers the fourth was shot in 2005 and shelved, reportedly because his cut lacked action. After a Wachowski-brothers rewrite, V FOR VENDETTA director James McTeigue did significant reshoots in early 2007 Hirschbiegel was supposedly unavailable and the result is a frantic mess that opens with a scene plucked from the film's third act that smacks of having been moved up to pacify audiences too restless for a slow build.
A flashback shows the space shuttle Patriot falling to Earth in flames, blanketing the ground with debris. The military tries, unsuccessfully, to secure the crash area and enforce a Centers for Disease Control quarantine the shuttle is contaminated with spiky, near-indestructible extraterrestrial spores that entrepreneurial scavengers are already dispersing all over the planet via eBay. Careless CDC bigwig Tucker Kaufman (Jeremy Northam) pricks his finger on one and undergoes an icky transformation while he sleeps. Meanwhile, Tucker's brittle ex-wife, Washington, D.C, psychiatrist Carol Bennell (Kidman, all whispery voice, pouty lips and curiously immobile forehead), is puzzled when longtime patient Wendy Lenk (Veronica Cartwright, star of 1978's INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS) complains that her husband is no longer himself. Carol dutifully adjusts Wendy's meds and goes back to worrying about letting her beloved son, Ollie (newcomer Jackson Bond, who bears an unfortunate resemblance to a monkey), visit his long-estranged dad. By the time Carol realizes Tucker has succumbed to an epidemic of pathological conformity that's sweeping the world (the alien-infiltrated American government insists it's just a bad flu), he's spirited Ollie away. Carol turns to her platonic friend Dr. Ben Driscoll (Daniel Craig) for help recovering Ollie, a mission made more urgent by Ben's apparent immunity to the spores.
A product of Cold War anxieties, Finney's novel can support a wide range of metaphorical spins: Don Siegel's INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956) equated alien possession with communist creep, or perhaps post-WWII homogenization of American culture it reads equally well both ways. Philip Kaufman's remake seethes with post-Watergate paranoia and counterculture disillusionment; Abel Ferrara's BODY SNATCHERS (1993) takes a Freudian approach. Screenwriter David Kajganich toys with the novel notion that the soulless invaders might be on to something: As the spore-people spread, the TVs flickering in the background of countless scenes feature news footage of peace breaking out all over the world. But there's little room for ideas when there are flaming cars to be crashed, and overall the film is an infelicitous hodgepodge that lifts as liberally from THE QUATERMASS EXPERIMENT (1956) and 28 WEEKS LATER (2007) as Body Snatchers while leaving all the best bits behind even the iconic pods are gone. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh