½*/**** Image A- Sound A Extras C+
starring David Duchovny, Julianne Moore, Orlando Jones, Seann William Scott
screenplay by David Diamond & David Weissman and Don Jakoby
directed by Ivan Reitman
by Walter Chaw Ira Kane (David Duchovny) is a science teacher at a community college in Arizona. Not biology, not chemistry, not physics, but "science." Uh huh. His friend at the college is Harry Block (Orlando Jones), an honorary member of the United States Geological Society (not to be confused with the United States Geological Survey). When a meteorite smashes into Earth, totalling the vintage '73 Riviera of complete moron Wayne (complete moron specialist Seann William Scott, late of Dude, Where's My Car?), of course Harry and Ira are called in to collect "scientific" samples in the name of...um..."science."
Our intrepid trio discovers that the meteorite is as fecund with fauna as the meteorite in Creepshow was fecund with flora--and that the beasties released from the space rock are "evolving" at a geometric rate. Before long, the little Arizona town is overrun with space gremlins...well, not overrun, but according to that U.S. map with the expanding red bits, it will be soon. Will our intrepid trio, with the help of beautiful, anemic, and clumsy government scientist Allison (Julianne Moore), thwart this extra-terrestrial menace?
Evolution is a scene-for-scene, character-for-character retelling of the last Reitman film that was worth a crap, 1984's Ghostbusters (which I suspect was better because I was 11 and, though bright for 11, still 11). There's a nerdy little guy who looks like Rick Moranis, an alarmingly pallid love interest (Allison), a black guy (Harry), a disgraced scientist (Kane), a stick-up-his-bum official (Ghostbusters' own Dan Aykroyd), an evil foil (Ted Levine), and a simpleton (Wayne). There's a fat green beastie, a flying beastie, a giant thing that grows tendrils, and, in the finale, a humongous creature that oozes and eventually explodes into lots of goop. The heroes ride in to save the world on a wave of pop music, armed to the gills with good goop to battle the bad goop, and there's enough time for a hackneyed romantic interlude, of course.
Evolution, in other words, is Ghostbusters, but consistently unfunny, a few decibels louder, and without anything resembling chills or the pretense of plausibility. In the 1984 film, the Ghostbusters became tolerated by the police as a tool for order. In Evolution, two community-college profs and a burnt surfer living in Arizona fire off guns within city limits, tamper with crime scenes, and commit grand larceny--and the only times cops appear are to be laughed at as comic relief. No matter; the editing of this film is so piss-poor (characters appear and disappear, important props appear and disappear, and non sequiturs are delivered clearly out of sequence) that Sherlock Holmes, Nero Wolfe, Walter Murch, and Sam Spade combined couldn't make heads or tails of it.
Wait, don't tell me: Evolution is a summer movie, so we simply can't expect it to make any kind of real-world sense. Okay, leaving aside the bald impossibility of anything that happens in the non-fantasy parts of Evolution, take a minute to consider its science. Evolution doesn't understand Darwinian theory, doesn't understand conservations of mass, and uses the periodic table of elements in a way as cavalier and ludicrous as any deus ex machina device I've seen in years. Think of it this way: a meteor crashes into the Arizona desert and starts oozing blue goop; in no time, the single-celled organisms inhabiting said goop begin to multiply, causing a sample of it, sitting on a microscope slide, to expand and break the slide. It is, in other words, creating mass. As you know from the previews, the goop gives birth, eventually, through "evolution," to all manner of creatures: pterodactyls, lizard dogs, fish...everything--and throughout, the one vital question everyone should be asking isn't spoken: what are they eating?
Eventually they eat each other, but there is nothing in Earth's environment that can function as food for the aliens (the environment is initially toxic for them, drawing up a whole 'nother mess of problems). And as the film is rated PG-13, there isn't any people-dining, either. The things in this movie "evolve" (snicker) across spans of "billions of years" in just a few weeks without the benefit of lunch...or breakfast, or even a light snack. I couldn't so much as climb a flight of stairs if I didn't eat for four days, let alone a few weeks. It takes an immense amount of energy for biological reactions to occur; save for a weird and desperate plot point in the last few minutes, there is never an obvious source for any kind of energy (nor mass) to be either provided or generated by the invaders. That's a very interesting question to answer, isn't it? It would solve world hunger in one fell swoop if we could figure out how to manufacture biological mass from thin air.
Wait, don't tell me: Evolution is a summer movie, so we simply can't expect it to make any kind of sense with regards to very, very basic pillars of scientific fact. Okay, leaving aside the science as well as the real-world believability, how does the film work in terms of the special effects/romantic comedy genres? Duchovny, a very smart man (offscreen he is, after all, married to Tea Leoni), smirks and winces his way through the whole of Evolution as though he were forced to handle a bag of medical waste. Jones plays another embarrassing jive-turkey sidekick, while Moore needs to find out where she's bleeding from, because she's acting all distant and looking very, very pale these days. Aykroyd is typically horrible and chief villain Levine is rote and irritating, not for the character he plays, but for our familiarity with the type of character he plays. Finally, Seann William Scott--I'm not going to waste time on this--needs desperately to find another job he's actually good at.
Evolution is wholly without comedic rhythm, woefully underwritten, and sadly over-reliant on ass jokes (too many to mention), anal penetration (2), mooning (1), testicle peril (2...well, 4), boob leering (2...well, 4, again), sexual frigidity (3), fat guys (2, over and over), and flatulence (1). It is deeply boring, blindly paced, and humiliating for me, who had nothing to do with it. It isn't witty, it isn't tense, it isn't intelligent, it isn't coherent, there's no chemistry between Duchovny and Moore, there are a lot of alumni from not only SNL but also "MADtv" in pointless cameos, and it's at least twenty minutes too long. The few-and-far-between, identifiably CGI effects are without menace. There is an extreme product placement overkill (Samuel Adams, Head & Shoulders), leading me to suspect that we're a year or two away from actors wearing patches like NASCAR drivers, and the three lame attempts at a jump-scare elicited something closer to yawns at my screening.
Evolution could suck a tennis ball through a keyhole, gentle reader. It's a sad and lamentable film from a person who probably never had much talent (if Ghostbusters is your best movie, if you've worked on three Schwarzenegger comedies, and if you once cast both Billy Crystal and Robin Williams in the same film, you're most likely a hack) but once seemed to have a great deal--or so thought eleven-year-old me. I'm not convinced I would've had much praise for this listless piece of chunder even at that age, but you never know: at 11, I had a good time building a dam in the gutter. Ivan Reitman is quite possibly the only person who is glad for Pearl Harbor this summer, because it is one of the few cinematic abortions that compares unfavorably to Evolution. When that's all you have to hold on to, chum, better hope it's a short drop. Originally published: June 9, 2001.
by Bill Chambers What does Ivan Reitman know about evolution? If anything, he's degenerated as a filmmaker since Ghostbusters. Evolution at least has more going for it on DVD than it did in theatres, namely that you can press stop. Anamorphically letterboxed at 1.85:1, the image is smooth, though it does pixellate a bit in the composited shots during the attack on the shopping mall. The soundmix is quite strong in both DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 configurations, with subwoofer-threatening bass as the pivotal space debris lands and impressive discrete panning as helicopters and all manner of aliens fly into frame.
One of the bonus listings on the cover and within the menu of the DreamWorks disc is weirdly deceiving: "A Conversation with Ivan Reitman, David Duchovny, Orlando Jones, Seann William Scott" is actually a screen-specific, feature-length commentary--a deluded, if entertaining, one, at that. Also on board are six deleted scenes introduced by Reitman comments, the most significant an alternative finale (which Reitman incredulously terms "the sci-fi ending") that leaves no doubt as to why it wound up on the chopping block. The Orlando Jones-hosted HBO First Look special "The Evolution of Evolution" (15 mins.) is light viewing, as is a featurette on Phil Tippett's effects (10 mins.). Six animated storyboard sequences can be watched with or without a picture-in-picture view of their filmed counterparts, while an alleged photo gallery traces the development of several of Evolution's creatures. Cast and filmmaker bios--but no trailer--round out the DVD. Originally published: December 16, 2001.