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‘The Body Snatchers’ (R)

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
February 18, 1994

If third on a match is bad luck, so is third on an original concept.

Abel Ferrara is the third director to tackle "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," author Jack Finney's wickedly prescient '50s parable of unconscious conformity in which human beings are replaced by soulless replicas from outer space as they sleep. Sadly, "Body Snatchers: The Invasion Continues" is itself a soulless replica of Don Seigel's 1956 model and Philip Kaufman's 1978 update.

Hazy on character and plot, this remake settles on slick and sickening transformation effects and plays down to its target audience. There were few effects in the original and no on-screen transformations; now those are the main attractions. And where its predecessors were virtually devoid of children, this "Body Snatchers" focuses on the trials and tribulations of petulant teenager Marti Malone (Gabrielle Anwar). Somehow, modern teen angst is less involving than adult neurosis.

There's not even an invasion this go-round, just the taken-for-granted presence of weird pods in an Alabama swamp. After the first remake's San Francisco sojourn, events go rural again, though the small town of the '50s has been replaced by a '90s military base. Paranoia could strike deep if we only knew whether this new menace to society was from outer space or inner toxicity: The film hints it might be the latter by making the initial protagonist, Steve Malone (Terry Kinney), an EPA inspector on a tour of military bases.

For some reason, Malone has brought his family along. As far as Marti is concerned, stepmother Carol (Meg Tilly) is already a soulless replicant of her mother. Though somewhat discombobulated when a soldier lurches at her in a restroom and warns, "They get you when you're asleep," Marti hasn't a clue as to what's in store, though her voice-over notes: "If we'd known what was waiting for us, we would have run" (advice that's never kept moviegoers out of a theater).

The plot unfolds somewhat clumsily as the folks on the military base start walking, talking and dressing with emotionless conformity. Say, isn't that the way they're supposed to behave?

Any sensible person would be suspicious about military folk delivering strange packages and insisting on putting them in bedrooms and bathrooms, but the Malones are basically oblivious to the idea that pod people who need people are the yuckiest people in the world. With sleep comes the attack of the steroid spaghetti: The transformations involve long, slimy tendrils wrapping themselves around uneasy sleepers and worming their way into available orifices (relax: the film is rated R, not NC-17).

Carol goes first and ends up taking her old, now innardly vacuumed self out to the curb in a plastic garbage bag. Marti and Steve don't notice, but 5-year-old Andy (Reilly Murphy) does: "No, that's not my mommy," he insists. But Andy's early warnings have already gone unheeded. After all, no one thought it strange when the other day-care kids all drew the exact same drawing!

Luckily, Marti has hooked up with dashing helicopter pilot Tim Young (Billy Wirth, looking like a Baldwin). Gradually, they get a glimmer of disaster, as when the base psychiatrist, Dr. Collins (Forest Whitaker), goes totally bonkers trying to stay awake despite the lulling suggestions of his former patients, now curiously at peace in a single satisfied mind.

After a close call that's basically an excuse for a brief nude scene for Marti, the two youngsters try to avoid detection -- exposure elicits a banshee scream of accusation (a holdover from the 1978 version). Despite such cautions as "Where you gonna go? Where you gonna hide? Where you gonna run? Nowhere! There's no one like you left!" they manage to escape and fight something of a rear-guard action, though the film is annoyingly ambivalent about its ending. Then again, we should worry more about another remake than a sequel.

Burdened by leaden dialogue and emotionless acting, most of the characters don't make much of an impression. Anwar is vacuously charming, more so than in the recent "For Love or Money." Can she carry a film yet? No.

In the '50s, when "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" suggested metaphors for McCarthyism, communism and any pick-an-ism that could fit the book and film plot, losing one's soul and freedom were clearly shocking consequences to inattention. Ferrara's "Body Snatchers" is glitzy but hollow, as if the director too had lost his soul and become content with de rigueur mortis.

"Body Snatchers: The Invasion Continues" is rated R and contains some nudity and violence.

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