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Evolution

Director: Ivan Reitman
Cast: David Duchovny, Orlando Jones, Julianne Moore, Seann William Scott

(Dreamworks; US theatrical: 31 Dec 1969; 2001)

21st Century Devo

Aliens. The Pentagon. A secret conspiracy involving a military cover-up. David Duchovny. Evolution‘s various elements read like a script treatment for the next X-Files movie. It even features a Scully stand-in: Allison Reed (Julianne Moore), is a sultry-yet-detached, red-headed scientist whose commitment to procedure and fact-finding allow her to mask an attraction to the more free-wheeling, rule-breaking biology professor, Ira Kane (Duchovny).


Reed is introduced to the audience as she strides confidently toward the camera, about to brief assembled military higher-ups and scientists about the current alien threat facing humanity. Climbing the steps to the meeting, however, she trips on the steps and flounders comically on the ground in an attempt to regain her lost balance. Her seriousness and officious attitude are pulled both literally and figuratively out from under her. While it would be simplistic to say that Evolution equals X-Files plus pratfalls, this moment encapsulates the marriage of science fiction and goofy slapstick that recurs throughout the film.


With ample helpings of both special effects and toilet humor, the movie tells the story of a small Arizona town whose inhabitants are menaced by alien critters after a life-bearing meteor crashes into the nearby desert. Two professors from the local community college, Ira Kane and geology teacher Harry Block (Orlando Jones), investigate the crash site, taking samples that reveal the presence of cellular alien organisms, reproducing and evolving at an amazing rate. Despite the pair’s attempts to hide the discovery from government officials (Duchovny, in a familiar turn, doesn’t trust them), it’s not long before the microscopic aliens are evolving into worms, then insects, amphibians, reptiles, and so on, until a computer-generated dinosaur is flying through the local mall, terrorizing shoppers. Allison Reed is at first part of the government’s response team, but she soon teams up with Ira and Harry, along with aspiring firefighter and empty-headed cabana boy Wayne Green (Seann William Scott), to put a stop to the hyper-evolving aliens and save humanity.


The plot may also remind viewers of another film in which a small group of misfits and scientists must save the world from a plague of superimposed monsters: Ghostbusters. Also directed by Ivan Reitman (Evolution‘s release date — June 8th —- is, in fact, the seventeenth anniversary of the release of Ghostbusters), Ghostbusters was a similarly tongue-in-cheek, special effect-laden work that succeeded in many of the areas in which Evolution fails miserably. As Ghostbusters’ head ‘buster Peter Venkman, Bill Murray perfected his dead-panning and wisecracking. In Evolution‘s lead role, however, Duchovny seems more dead than dead-panning. The cool monotone associated with his unflappable television persona, Fox Mulder, carries over into his cinematic presence with decidedly unfunny consequences. One scene sees him grabbing his crotch at a general who has banned him from the meteor crash site. Ira yells, “I got some protocol right here for you!”, then moons the offending general.


Such Porky’s-style humor recurs throughout the film, as in a scene in which Harry Block suffers a . . . well, invasive, medical procedure to remove a tunneling alien bug. The same manic energy that Orlando Jones brings to his 7-Up commercials is brought forth as he flops and hollers on the operating table. Wayne Green (in an unfortunate run-in with a fire hose) suffers the seemingly requisite groin trauma that has come to be a defining mark of low-brow comedies, and Allison Reed’s clumsiness is repeated ad nauseam, as she slips and trips her way through the film. All in all, Evolution‘s attempts at physical comedy are unoriginal.


For a film that concerns itself with the increasing complexity of hyper-evolutionary organisms, Evolution is decidedly simplistic and one-dimensional. While the CGI aliens provide impressive eye candy, these images are mired in a dull plot with stale jokes. Rather than building on the successful science fiction-comedy formula of Ghostbusters, Reitman’s latest film is one big step backwards, devolving into a stilted, unfunny, and flat species of cinema that pales before its ancestor.

Tobias Peterson served as PopMatters' Sport Editors and columnist (From the Cheap Seats). He holds an MA in English Literature (with a concentration in Cultural Studies) from George Mason University, where he studied representations of race in professional basketball.


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