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EVOLUTION(director: Ivan Reitman; screenwriters: from a story by Don Jakoby/David Diamond/David Weissman; cinematographer: Michael Chapman; editors: Sheldon Kahn/Wendy Greene Bricmont; music: John Powell; cast: David Duchovny (Ira Kane), Julianne Moore (Allison Reed), Orlando Jones (Harry Block), Seann William Scott (Wayne Grey), Ted Levine (General Woodman), Dan Aykroyd (Gov. Lewis), Katharine Towne (Nadine), Pat Kilbane (Sam Johnson), Sarah Silverman (Denise), Ethan Suplee (College Brother), Michael Ray Bower (College Brother); Runtime: 103; rated: PG-13; producers:Ivan Reitman/Daniel Goldberg/Joe Medjuck; DreamWorks; 2001)
“This is one dumb sci-fi comedy that doesn’t work in either genre.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This is one dumb sci-fi comedy that doesn’t work in either genre. There are no redeeming values for this juvenile, at best frat-house, flick whose main appeal, I suppose, is for those who have unfortunately reversed the process of evolution for themselves, or for those who are on a summer vacation and have let their hair down, or for those who are planning to have a lobotomy and will from now on diet solely on Hollywood fare or, if I can find it in my heart to be more generous, for those whose sense of humor differs radically from mine. On the evolutionary scale of comedies, Evolution is near rock bottom. Ivan Reitman (“Ghostbusters“) directs an alien attack film in which the only remotely interesting thing it had going for it was its alien premise of these harmless but odd creatures being attacked for no reason but military paranoia. But it wasted that opportunity to do something that had a satirical bite by opting to take the road to mediocrity with lame jokes, punch lines telegraphed from miles away, asinine skits, and by showing an ear for comedy stuck in its rear end. Rectal humor is what Evolution has come down to for this middling director, who gets an A for bringing science and comedy down to a low level. The film’s main protagonist is a biology prof, who also is in the habit of giving A’s out to win his students over to his side. Almost everyone in his college class gets an A, except for the moronic brothers (Ethan Suplee and Michael Ray Bower) who hand in an identical one-lined term paper entitled “Cells Are Bad” and both receive a C- . To that grade, the prof wisecracks that he still has some standards.

The film opens as the designated-resident imbecile, a candidate for the small-town Arizona fire department, Wayne Grey (Seann William Scott), is practicing for his test tomorrow by showing his rescue moves on an inflated doll-like figure he placed in an abandoned shack he set on fire. This takes place under the nighttime desert sky, but the practice test is interrupted when a meteor strikes. Two goofy and irreverent science professors at nearby Glenn Canyon Community College, Ira Kane (Duchovny) and Harry Block (Jones), team up to discover that the meteor contains alien cells that are rapidly going from single to multiple cells, therefore pushing the billion years it took to make that evolutionary leap into now happening in a matter of a few days. In other words, there is an immediate and startling evolutionary process taking place that defies all scientific knowledge. These two funky interracial buddies and colleagues, with Block also working as the women’s volleyball coach, get all excited thinking about personal glory and that they will be honored by the science community for their discovery. They also must think that their tired comical retorts haven’t seen better days, as Block lays on a series of racially related one-liners placing him as the angry black man. Ira makes faces and thereby thinks he has a nose for comedy and has shed his humorless role in X-Files. The likable Wayne goes from doing one dumb thing to another, but his charm wears thin as the film progresses and his part grows more tedious.

The Pentagon has monitored its ex-colonel Ira’s computer. He worked for the one-dimensional heavy at the Pentagon, General Woodman (Levine), until he got fired for incompetency over a vaccine that produced severe side effects instead of inoculating against anthrax. I guess it’s believable to keep tabs on all former Pentagon personnel (yeah, right!), as in this case they horn in on the professors and their great scientific discovery by booting them off the project for security reasons. Allison Reed (Moore) is the scientist from CDC assigned to do research for the Pentagon. She is pictured at first as an Ice Queen, who keeps bumping into everything and taking pratfalls. But she quickly turns into a sympathetic figure because she jeopardizes her scientific position by backing the profs, and she’s elevated into becoming the love interest of Ira for no discernible reason that I can ascertain. Why a successful actress like Julianne Moore should take this ill-conceived role, can only be for the money.

The wannabe doofus fireman also becomes a valuable helper to the two profs when the fear is among the authorities that these special-effects created creatures will overtake Arizona and then the world. Here’s where Dan Aykroyd makes a cameo as the Arizona governor who is reduced to saying what goes for his funniest line about the alien attack: “You gotta be shitting me!” Maybe it wasn’t about the aliens he was commenting on, but about the film.

The Army wants to use napalm to stop the alien organism from evolving and destroying the world, but the prof’s note that fire acts as a catalyst to make them grow at an even faster rate. So they come up with the use of the dandruff shampoo, Head and Shoulders, and inject that ad into the film, oops, I mean they inject the shampoo into the lead alien creature to save the world from the infestation of creepy flat-worms, flying dinosaurs, irate apes, man-eating giant amphibians, and assorted other alien creatures.

A sample of what is meant to pass for wit, is the line geology Professor Block uses to show he can use a gun: “Just because I’m a teacher, doesn’t make me a pussy.” If you find that sort of humor to your liking, then do I have a film for you.

Phil Tippett gets the credit for creating the so-so special-effects. The film was originally penned to be a sci-fi thriller. All it needed was a different director and cast, and then maybe the three screenwriters would have those around them who would appreciate their initial effort.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”