Evolution
review by Elias Savada, 15 June 2001

Look! Up on the screen! It's a bird! It's a-plain! It's super-lamebrain, man!

Ivan Reitman's self-flagellating homage to his mega-hit Ghostbusters is sadly lacking in the paranormal wit and manic weirdness of his 1984 classic. When a fiery space rock crashes and unleashes strange and wondrously evolving creatures on the planet, no one in his right mind is gonna call Alienbusters. The only ghost wandering about this corner of the world is John Ford, commiserating about the mis-incarnation of his American west into the sluggish widescreen shell housing Evolution. Reitman is the wrong man for this retread job, suffering from a pallid case of inspiration dehydration, picking up cast-off remnants of Men in Black, Tremors, Bug, Them, and handful of paranoid 1950s screamers heralding the burgeoning nuclear, cold-war, wasteland and not-in-my-back-yard depository of alien invasion forces. It's the biggest science fiction comedy pothole this side of Tim Burton's disastrous satire Mars Attacks! The palest of pale imitations, the director and his writers have replaced brilliant humor-filled heroes with simplistic, bungling protagonists and buddy-buddy-buddy schtick that tries to make up for an empty story line. The exuberance of Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Rick Moranis, and Sigourney Weaver makes way for the dourness of David Duchovny, Orlando Jones, Seann William Scott, and Julianne Moore (with Aykroyd meandering about the desert landscape as the mildly dimwitted governor of Arizona).

The crude plotline parallels the ectoplasmic original: supernatural forces are discovered by Everymen. Fascist authority figures manhandle and mishandle the situation with typical military aplumblessness. Romance tiptoes around the set while beings with nasty dispositions menace the locals and threaten the world. Everymen save the day and Everyman gets the girl.

Been there, a thousand times, and it's been done better.

That speck of higher education, Glen Canyon Community College, is the outpost where biology and geology professors Dr. Ira Kane and Harry Block spelunk themselves into the discovery of a lifetime. David Duchovny, ex of X-Files (which he slyly jabs, "No government. I know those people!") and Orlando "7-Up" Jones never really generate any screen fizzle, bending to proctological and sphincter humor for the bigger, broader laughs. American Pie's Seann William Scott, as country club pool-boy slacker turned would-be firefighter Wayne Green, joins the "learned" elders and the stunning Julianne Moore (pratfalling much as Chevy Chase did on Saturday Night Live eons ago) as the out-manned CDC epidemiologist Allison Reed. Plenty of screen time is wasted with the boys rambling around the desert singing Play That Funky Music, while Earth seems to be tottering toward a quick demise.

The dialogue and delivery are as flat as the countryside. "That's really peculiar," is the phrase delivered for yucks as the space extraterrestrial stalagmite bleeds blue blood. Such royal jabs lay royal eggs along the underground caverns that act as the incubation area for the out-of-this-world beasties. The stern and resolute military presence, lead by stick figure General Woodman (Ted Levine), offers the boulder-headed stubbornness you'd expect in a film like this. You just twiddle your thumbs waiting for his just deserts to arrive, and it's in a form of a substance with a marshmallowy consistency. What madness! Where's the originality?

But most of all, where's the humor?

It's buzzing around in the "there's a fly in my (containment) suit" of Jones, leading to an ugly rectal exorcism. These aliens are obviously from Uranus.

Or itís at the Tumbleweed's Pavilion mall, where Wayne abuses "You Are So Beautiful to Me" as musical enticement for an airborne e.t., fluttering about giving a shoplifter flying lessons in ethics.

Ha. Ha. Not.

Okay, the digital hybrid Venus flytraps, slimy flatworms, New Age dogs, etc. are dandy visual effects, courtesy of Phil Tippett, who helped populate Jurassic Park with dinosaurs and Starship Troopers with giant alien bugs. Awesome as his creatures are, though, the script and direction are of the filmmaking-for-dummies school. With the world at stake, you'd think that better minds would be called in to replace the salt-and-pepper college brain trust and their improbably slap-happy posse. Yeah, it's only a movie, but since the laughs are so few, I have plenty of time to fish for other faults. Must be the Arizona climate bringing out the brainlessness in everyone.

Sadly the ending leaves its roots showing, despite a tanker full of Head and Shoulders. After a dose of Evolution you'll want to switch shampoos.


Read Cynthia Fuchs' interview.

Directed by:
Ivan Reitman

Starring:
David Duchovny
Julianne Moore
Orlando Jones
Seann William Scott
Ted Levine
Dan Aykroyd

Written by:
David Diamond
David Weissman
Don Jakoby

Rated:
PG-13 - Restricted
Under 17 requires
accompanying parent or adult
guardian.

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