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Reeling It In

'Invasion' & 'Superbad': Great movies, but ...

Posted: Thursday, August 23, 2007

"The Invasion"

Warner Bros.

1 hour, 33 minutes

"Superbad"

Columbia Pictures

1 hour, 54 minutes

It's always helpful to be able to sum up your feelings on a film with a simple, succinct, "yea" or "nay." The most frustrating movies, however, are those where you are forced to qualify your assessment. "It was awesome, except for ... ." That's the worst, because your enjoyment is forever tainted. This weekend saw two highly anticipated, late-summer potential blockbusters that were really pretty good, right up until ... .

"The Invasion," a remake of that consistently scary, Twilight-Zone-style thriller "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," is a sufficiently frightening update on the story. Nicole Kidman, always luminous, even when she's on the run from armies of determined pod-people, is Dr. Carol Bennell, psychologist and devoted mother.

When a space shuttle disaster, an obvious reference to the destruction of Columbia a few years ago, spreads debris over part of the U.S., strange things start happening rapidly. One by one, people become zen automatons curiously peaceful, but devoid of emotion. While the media reports the existence of a "flu" epidemic, more and more complaints of "my husband is not my husband" are appearing in blogs and chatrooms across the Internet.

One such worried spouse appears on Dr. Bennell's couch, ushering our heroine into a terrifying world of poison-spitting zombies where to sleep means death and anyone could be the enemy. With the help of her doctor friend, Daniel Craig, Bennell has got to find her son and escape the city before she, too, becomes one of them.

"Invasion of the Body Snatchers," both the 1950s-era version and the '70s one, are terrifying movies. Both in horrific implications and actual jump-out-and-grab-you moments, those films shine. "The Invasion," while never at the level of its predecessors, is, for 95 percent of the movie, a solid, scare-filled thrill ride. Up until the last five minutes, I was pleasantly surprised that Hollywood could go to the remake well one more time and come out with something palatable.

But then the movie offers up one of the most ridiculous, rushed and unsatisfying endings I've seen in years. It's a slap-in-the-face, can-you-believe-you-paid-money-for-this conclusion, and it leaves the audience feeling confused and, frankly, a little angry.

This is not, I'd be willing to bet, the reaction the studio was hoping for.

The other film I went to see this weekend, "Superbad," has an entirely different kind of problem. From producer Judd Apatow, "Superbad" comes out of the same hit-factory that brought us "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and "Knocked Up." It is very much in the same vein: very funny, very crude and, ultimately, sweet. The characters are over the top, yet likeable, and the situations range from heartwarming to hilarious.

The story is simple: Two guys, best friends bound for different colleges, get invited to a big party. Their job is to bring the booze, guaranteeing them, at least in their estimation, a night of passion with their dream girls.

Of course, things don't turn out that way and after a series of mishaps involving idiotic cops, a party full of violent psychopaths, and a nerd who's fake ID states his name as McLovin', the two boys discover getting girls drunk in order to sleep with them is wrong and that talking out their feelings is right. All good stuff except for one thing: these are high school kids.

I'm not an idiot. I realize that not all teenagers are obeying either the laws of the land or those of societal decency otherwise "Superbad" wouldn't come out of a tradition of similar, though less explicit, movies. My problem is that, even with the positive moral at the end, the movie makes certain assumptions. All high school kids drink and party. All high school kids have sex. I know this isn't literally true, but the more Hollywood portrays teen life thusly, the more it treats the law as a silly trifle enacted by prudish killjoys, the closer it comes to being a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The thing is, there are good reasons why kids shouldn't be engaging in this kind of activity and it has nothing to do with the Puritans and everything to do with taking responsibility. The story easily could have been set in college. Kids who have left home and struck out on their own, if only symbolically, are more invested in their own future and are forced to face more of the consequences of their actions, much like adults.

"Superbad," and Hollywood, seem not to be particularly interested in consequences, and so, this film, funny and sweet though it is, ultimately disturbed me more than the body-snatching one I saw before it. Grades: "Superbad" & "Invasion:" C-

"The Invasion" is rated PG-13 for a few gross-out scares and brief language. "Superbad" is rated R for brief nudity, violence and explicit, graphic sexual dialogue.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.



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