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Evolution
Director: Ivan Reitman
Screenplay: David Diamond & David Weissman and Don Jakoby (story by Don Jakoby)
Stars: David Duchovny (Ira Kane), Julianne Moore (Allison Reed), Orlando Jones (Harry Block), Seann William Scott (Wayne Green), Ty Burrell (Flemming), Ted Levine (Dr. Woodman), Dan Aykroyd (Governor)
MPAA Rating:PG-13
Year of Release: 2001
Country: USA

Evolution is an enjoyable, but uneven special-effects-laden sci-fi comedy in which the special effects eventually overwhelm the comedy. It was directed by Ivan Reitman, who pioneered the combination of FX and big laughs with 1984's Ghostbusters. However, as he did in that film's disappointing 1989 sequel, he allows himself to be carried away by the possibilities of the special effects, and the humor ends up playing second fiddle, when it should have been the other way around.

Part of the problem with Evolution is that it lacks the writing skills of Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd and the unique improvisational stylings of Bill Murray (Aykroyd does make an appearance in an extended cameo as the Southern-drawling governor of Arizona). The script is from the pen of Don Jakoby, who co-wrote 1990's Arachnaphobia. Jakoby apparently wrote the original script as a straightforward sci-fi thriller, then it was rewritten as a comedy at Reitman's behest by David Diamond and David Weissman, who worked together on last year's sappy The Family Man. Somewhere during the process of making the movie, a lot of the comedy got buried as the special effects sequences got bigger and more elaborate, to the point that the movie ends with a gigantic amorphous blob exploding out of the earth.

But, I'm getting ahead of myself here. The story concerns two community-college science professors, Ira Kane (David Duchovny) and Harry Block (Orlando Jones), who find out about a meteor that crashed in the Arizona desert just miles out of town. When they investigate, they find that the meteor oozes blue goo that evolves at a jaw-droppingly accelerated rate, from single-celled organisms to multi-cellular insects in a matter of two weeks. And that's just the beginning. In a few months, the alien lifeforms can move through the entire evolutionary process that on earth took billions of years, allowing them to take over the planet.

Of course, such a discovery doesn't stay secret for long, so soon the military shows up, along with Allison Moore (Julianne Moore), the coordination-challenged director of the Center for Disease Control. The military brass quickly wrench control of the research away from Ira and Harry, thinking in typically blockheaded bureaucratic terms that they are better equipped to deal with it. As you might have guessed, no one is equipped to deal with it, and soon dinosaur-like aliens are rampaging through the Arizona hills, including one that flies through a suburban shopping mall.

Reitman relies heavily on the performers to compete with the beavy of computer-generated special effects (most of which aren't quite up to par), which is a lot to put on the shoulders of Duchovny, who is a comedy novice, and Jones, who has spend most of the last few years playing exclusively supporting roles.

Duchovny does well enough playing the relative straight man, while Jones gets to have some fun with his character, especially in the scene in which he gets a nasty little insect literally under his skin. They also have good banter together, as they are able to suggest intelligence while also maintaining some comic rhythm.

Reitman also tries to get a lot of mileage out of Sean William Scott, who plays a slow-witted would-be fireman who first witnesses the meteor crash. Scott has played either slow-witted, horny, or slow-witted horny characters in just about every movie he's ever been in (American Pie, Road Trip, Dude, Where's My Car?), which, at this point, means he will probably never play any other kind of role (he is very good at it, though).

All of this is not to say that Evolution doesn't have its moments. Many sequences are very funny, and it often plays the fine line between sci-fi genre thrills and outright gross-out comedy very well (I especially liked a scene when a group of middle-aged women having tea find themselves faced with a wrinkled, dog-like alien with a nasty surprise in its mouth). Yet, throughout the entire movie, I couldn't help thinking, "Surely they could have come up with something a little bit better than this." Alas, despite the few isolated moments of hilarity, they never did.

Overall Rating: (2.5)




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