Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

2/4

Starring: Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Veronica Cartwright, Jeff Goldblum, Leonard Nimoy

Rated PG (for Some Violence/Gore and Nudity)

Why is it so hard to make a truly good doppleganger movie?  I mean, the concept almost writes itself!  Is there anything creepier than to live in a place where everyone has been secretly replaced with an alien intelligence?  Apparently so, since the list of failures is long (John Carpenter's "They Live," "Abel Ferrara's own take on the story, "Body Snatchers," and let's not forget the fourth iteration of the story, "The Invasion" with Nicole Kidman and Stephanie Meyer's "The Host").  The only good worth seeing is "The Thing," which while effective in its own right, leaves room for improvement.

To be fair, paranoia is hard to make cinematic.  It takes a truly innovative director, like Alfred Hitchcock, to do it.  Sadly, Philip Kaufman isn't it.  While he has made some good films, such as "The Right Stuff" (which, while critically acclaimed, bombed at the box office), he also made that shitty Ashley Judd "thriller" "Twisted."  No guesses as to which film his take on the body snatching movie this is closer to in terms of quality.

Elizabeth Driscoll (Adams) works for the San Francisco Health Department.  She senses that her husband, Geoffrey (Art Hindle), is, literally, not himself.  Her friend and co-worker, Matthew Bennell (Sutherland), doesn't believe her.  But they soon realize that aliens have been attacking people and growing duplicates to replace them.  Now they have to find away to stay themselves long enough to save the world.

There are two big problems with the film, and they are the usual ones: bad script and bad direction.  Putting it bluntly, the script is a mess.  Not only is the dialogue bland and the story fails to capitalize on the innate terror of the situation, it substitutes suspense with action (the film's final third is really a series of chase sequences).  It also has more holes than Swiss cheese.  But Kaufman isn't blameless.  For one thing, he should have insisted on substantial rewrites to punch up the story.  There are plenty of avenues for this story to explore, not to mention innovative ways to do it, but Kaufman elects to play it safe at every turn.  A movie like this demands risk-taking and bold vision; Kaufman's work is pedestrian.

At least the acting is strong.  Donald Sutherland, despite looking goofy, is in fine form.  Ditto for character actress Brooke Adams.  They play their parts seriously, which helps us form a bond with them.  Solid support is provided by Jeff Goldblum and a pre-"Alien" Veronica Cartwright.

The film isn't a total loss.  There are some moments of tension here and there, and there is one montage of telephone calls that, while a cliché, is effectively executed.  Still, for those who are looking for the heebie-jeebies in the days counting down to Halloween, there are better films to spend your time and money on.

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