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Monday, June 1, 2015

Summer Not-Busters: Evolution (2001)

Director: Ivan Reitman
Starring: David Duchovny, Julianne Moore, Orlando Jones, Sean William Scott
Domestic Gross: $38,345,494

I've seen my share of bad movies over the years, but I'm not sure that any actually inspired me to say aloud afterwards, "What a terrible fucking movie," until I saw Evolution. For the life of me, I cannot imagine what attracted any of the people involved to this particular project, even Sean William Scott as Evolution makes Dude, Where's My Car? look like a sophisticated Preston Sturges picture. I can't pinpoint where, exactly, things went off the rails here but I imagine that it happened somewhere during the transition from the original script, which apparently saw the story as a serious science-fiction piece, into a comedy script. Turns out the "funny" element of comedy got forgotten and, with all else failing, director Ivan Reitman periodically attempted to evoke Ghostbusters in the vain hope that residual goodwill for that classic might have a chance of making this particular dreck go down easier. Allow me to assure you, it does not.

In Evolution, David Duchovny, Orlando Jones, Julianne Moore, and Sean William Scott come together as, respectively, a scientist with past military ties, a geologist, a doctor with the CDC, and an idiot, to investigate and then stop an alien infestation in Arizona. The infestation begins when a meteor crashes into the desert, and into the car owned by Scott's character Wayne, and gets lodged in an underground cavern where it almost immediately begins sprouting oxygen-converting fungi in order to make the atmosphere more inviting to the organisms that it harbors. Ira (Duchovny) and Harry (Jones), colleagues at a local community college, hear about the meteor and go out to investigate, hoping to keep their findings a secret from the government. However, shortly after Ira discovers that the meteor contained single-cell organisms that are now evolving at a fast rate, the government gets word of the site and closes it off, forcing Ira and Harry to fight with Dr. Reed (Moore) and General Woodman (Ted Levine) for the right to continue researching what they've found. Meanwhile, not only do the alien life forms continue to evolve and their numbers expand, but they start coming up through the ground at various parts of the town, inundating the residents with strange and sometimes dangerous creatures, the first of which are worms, then amphibious creatures, and then dinosaur-type creatures. As the aliens at the crash site begin evolving into primate-like forms and the government begins talking about wiping them out using napalm, Reed splits from them to join Ira, Harry, and Wayne (who discovered one of the dead amphibian creatures and brought it to Ira at the college) who seek another solution to the potential alien menace, one which becomes terrifically urgent once they accidentally discover that rather than being destroyed by fire and heat, the alien lifeforms will feed off it and then grow to unfathomable size.

To praise Evolution before damning it, the creature effects are generally well done. I'm not sure how much of it was achieved by CGI as opposed to practical effects, but in many scenes the characters interact with creatures that seem to have real dimension and actual physical weight which makes them seem present with the actors. Aesthetically the creatures are pretty grotesque looking, but that works for what the story is going for. The aliens aren't supposed to be cuddly and lovable, they're supposed to be pests whose presence threatens to take over the town and then continue spreading until it quickly absorbs the entire continent, and the effects crew makes them just threatening enough to justify destroying them while also making them just goofy looking enough to fit in with the film's conception of itself as a comedy. In this respect the film does right (though I'm not entirely clear on why the creatures evolve into dinosaurs and bipeds at the same time and seemingly from the same ancestor), but it does so much else wrong that it hardly matters.

Evolution is a comedy during which I laughed exactly zero times. Though it is only 14 years old, what passes as the humor is so outdated that it just doesn't work anymore (if it ever did). The sexual humor in the film is pretty regressive, from the extended and recurring bit about how Dr. Reed is uptight but could be fixed with sex (an attitude not just implied, but stated outright by Harry to Ira), to another extended bit that involves an alien creature ending up inside of Harry and having to be removed rectally that is played in such a way as to just skirt the line of being homophobic. Moreover, it's telling that of the four main characters those played by Duchovny and Scott get to waltz through the film with their dignity intact (though, per usual at this point in his career, Scott's character is arguably too dim to have any dignity to begin with) while Jones' character is subjected to bodily humiliations which first find him ending up with an alien in his rectum and then later find him ending up in the (fluid spewing) rectum of an over-grown alien, and Moore's character is the no fun, uptight shrew who just needs a good lay and whose one "humorous" quality is that she's a klutz and constantly falling or walking into things or dropping things. As I have a hard time believing that Reitman couldn't come up with anything better or more original than to take a cue from a bad romantic comedy in order to characterize the film's lone female character, I'll just chalk this up to sheer laziness.

"Lazy" is ultimately the best way to describe Evolution as a whole, which never bothers to aim higher than the lowest common denominator and actively echoes Ghostbusters so frequently that I assume Reitman grew depressed with the project mid-way through and started trying to relive the better times of the past in an effort to alleviate that. Evolution fails so thoroughly that even the big final joke, a parody of conspicuous product placement in film which finds the characters addressing the camera to extol the virtues of Head and Shoulders shampoo (the product with which the story's heroes destroy the alien menace), plays less like an actual joke and more like actual product placement. After all, when a comedy is this aggressively unfunny from beginning to end, it would only make sense to discover that it was nothing more than an elaborate commercial for shampoo because at least then it would have a reason to exist.

Should It Have Been a Blockbuster?: No. Just, no.

1 comment:

Kyle Mulford said...

I remember really enjoying this when it came out, but I have not seen it since then. I've seen a lot of people hating on this movie in the last couple of years. It must have just caught me at the right time (I was a young dumb college student still). Gonna have to revisit to see if it's as bad as everyone says it is.

Ca-caw, ca-caw, tooki tooki!