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Evolution
Reviewed by Jason Myers, © 2001

Format: Movie
By:   Ivan Reitman
Genre:   Comedy / Science Fiction
Review Date:   June 17, 2001
Audience Rating:   PG-13
RevSF Rating:   6/10 (What Is This?)

Evolution is the latest comedy from Ivan Reitman. If you look at the pictures that he's directed (Dave, Kindergarten Cop, Twins, and Meatballs), you'll get an idea of what to expect from Evolution: an amiable comedy. The sci-fi comedy Evolution has some imaginative creatures, and it's good for a few laughs. Unfortunately, Reitman also directed a little supernatural chuckle-fest known as Ghostbusters, which will (surprise) elicit endless comparisons. I haven't seen Ghostbusters for several years, so I feel unqualified to compare the actual quality of the two films. Suffice it to say that Evolution may not measure up well to the idealized memory that so many filmgoers have of Ghostbusters. Lightning will probably not strike twice, and Evolution will be remembered as a minor, but mildly amusing movie.

And that's appropriate, since Evolution is a minor, but mildly amusing, movie.

Trust your impressions of the previews you've seen for Evolution. If you're first thought was, "That looks dumb," then don't bother going. If your first thought was, "That looks like fun," then you'll probably enjoy it. Often, a preview will misrepresent a movie (Genre fans, be warned: despite the implication in the title, and the mysterious, vaguely ominous tone of the television ads, Angel Eyes is not supernatural in any way, shape or form). Evolution's preview, however, wears its goofball heart on its sleeve. There are also many movies where the film's entire stock of good jokes and nifty visuals fit into the 90-second preview. Evolution is not one of those.

Both the gags and the action are hit and miss, but fortunately the hits come often enough to keep things interesting.

David Duchovny and Orlando Jones are a just a couple of community college professors in Arizona who happen to be at the right place at the right time to save the world. Orlando Jones is easily the best thing to come up out Fox's Mad TV, and he does good work. Duchovny has fun deadpanning his way through the movie playing off his X-Files character.

Julianne Moore's character is a member of the Center for Disease Control who helps the profs fight the alien menace (The ever growing web of Jody Foster/Julianne Moore/Gillian Anderson connections is getting a little creepy). I love Julianne Moore, but she isn't given much to do here (though she does model what I predict will be the next trend in geek chic fashion: a t-shirt emblazoned with the periodic table of the elements).

Seann William Scott (he of the "That's like a big loogie!") plays basically the same characters he did in American Pie and Dude, Where's My Car? Sometimes funny, sometimes annoying, but I'm beginning to wonder: is this guy acting at all?

Dan Aykroyd's extended cameo is of note because he was in Ghostbusters. The best type of stunt-casting (Sean Connery in Robin Hood: Prince of These; Patrick Stewart in Robin Hood: Men in Tights) infuses the screen with energy. But Aykroyd's character isn't memorable, and his performance is stilted. Dan, you ignorant slut!

Two things about this movie will bother people: the bad science and the sophomoric humor.

First, there is the misuse of the term "evolution" throughout the movie. Hey, the film's called Evolution, because the creatures start out as microbes and quickly "evolve" into big monsters. But it should be called "Mutation" instead. Evolution is basically the long-term effect of natural selection. Animals with certain traits are more likely to survive than others. The genes of an individual creature have no biological imperative to "evolve." They just want to replicate themselves. There is no map in our genes that we can use to predict how we will look in 5000 years. It's this type of lobotomized science that allowed Captain Janeway from Star Trek: Voyager to "evolve" into a big lizard and mate with one of the male crewmembers.

Yeah, yeah, it's just a movie, I know. Maybe the ooze that lands on our planet contains the genetic memories of every species in its home planet's history. Or whatever.

One other thing: I can maybe buy that the boneheaded government doesn't bother to pretest its proposed "solution" to the alien problem, but neither, evidently, do the scientists, who are supposed to be smarter than that.

But in spite of all this, Evolution still has more believable (and more interesting) science than many serious sci-fi movies (or the average episode of Seven Days).

Evolution definitely shows that Ivan Reitman's summer camp sensibilities haven't changed all that much since Meatballs.

There is plenty of crude gutter-brain humor. But PG-13 gross-out gags seem almost tasteful after you've subjected yourself to Scary Movie and Me, Myself, and Irene. In fact, I found myself laughing out loud at the crudest scene, in which a mosquito-looking critter gets under Orlando Jones' skin (I can still hear Julianne Moore cooing, "You're very brave."). They say that, psychologically, a large part of laugh response to physical humor is an expression of relief that it's not happening to us. That's certainly true here. (A bit of trivia. In the television previews, the doctor says, "It's moving toward his crotch." In the theater previews, he says, "It's moving toward his butt," and in the movie itself, he says, "It's moving toward his testicles." I'd love to have heard the conversations during the meeting where they made these command decisions.)

The visual effects supervisor for Evolution was Phil Tippett, who's worked on effects for Coneheads, Jurassic Park, Robocop, Starship Troopers, Willow, and Dragonslayer. The monsters in Evolution don't disappoint, particularly if you enjoy the whimsical aesthetic (think Return of the Jedi and TV's Farscape) in which creatures can be funny, beautiful, gross, and scary, all at the same time. However, as in The Haunting (which Phil Tippett and his studio also did work for) the integration of CGI with human actors is not always up to snuff. Some scenes are startling real, and others have a sort of fuzzy line of demarcation between actor and effect (especially when the scientists are battling … what is that they are battling, anyway …? the creature from Akira …?)

And, as is the case with so many movies (Men in Black, The Mummy Returns, The Haunting, and countless others) the whizbang pull-out-all-the-stops effects-laden finale turns out to be not nearly as interesting (and, in this case, also not nearly as funny) as the events leading up to it.

But the last 15 seconds will make it hard for you not to leave with a smile on your face.


If you ask us, Film/DVD editor Jason Myers spends way too much time listening to that "David Duchovny, why won't you love me?" song.

 
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