De-evolution calling

The incompetent sci-fi comedy Evolution shows no sign of intelligent life

BUTT OF THE JOKE: Julianne Moore comforts human suppository Orlando Jones in one of <i>Evolution</i>‘s finer moments.

BUTT OF THE JOKE: Julianne Moore comforts human suppository Orlando Jones in one of Evolution‘s finer moments.

Starring David Duchovny, Julianne Moore and Orlando Jones. Directed by Ivan Reitman. Rated PG-13.
Rated 2.0

As far as Hollywood is concerned, Darwin was wrong: If survival of the fittest were in effect in LaLa Land, Ivan Reitman wouldn’t even be allowed to handle a home video camera, let alone cobble together such dross as Evolution.

From Stripes and Ghostbusters to this—did Reitman have a stroke or something? Oh, that’s right, he doesn’t have SNL alumni on hand to carry the comedic weight. Believe me, this one had to be a hard game to throw—the story is rife with satirical possibilities, a return to those Saturday-matinee sci-fi potboilers of the ‘50s. A meteor crashes to Earth in the Arizona desert, carrying an alien life form that metabolizes at a dizzying rate until it grows to terrorize a nearby community (and, if not stopped, the world … of course). All that stands in the way of the menace is David Duchovny and Orlando Jones as a couple of community college instructors joined by defector-bureaucrat Julianne Moore, and all that stands in the way of them saving the world is the United States Army (as usual).

The problem is that Evolution is a lot less clever than it thinks it is. Obviously aiming for the popcorn popping possibilities of Men in Black meeting Ghostbusters, it ends up instead being the cinematic equivalent to the Star Wars missle defense system, in that not one gag in this execrable “comedy” could hit the broad side of a barn. I didn’t guffaw, laugh, chuckle, or even smirk once during the course of this movie. Not once (a first for me, I believe). I have nothing against sub-lowbrow humor (hell, I thought Dude, Where’s My Car? was the choicest gutbuster I saw last year), but the “laughs” on hand here are strictly toilet bowl—from mooning to butt abuse to beasties that look like butts, damn near every gag in this movie has something to do with butts. Even the climax features a giant anus.

The script originally started out as a straight horror/sci-fi thriller (and there were a couple of effective moments that indicate that it could have been a decent one if played straight), but since they were motivated to make a comedy out of it, it would have been nice to see exactly what inspired the filmmakers to tweak it in that direction. Surely it wasn’t the high concept of having Julianne Moore’s character repeatedly stumbling over things (about the height of the humor involved here) or the indispensable sight gag of Orlando Jones serving as a human suppository for some lumbering leviathan.

Evolution shows no evidence of having a sentient life form behind it and seems cobbled together by the proverbial 13 monkeys and a typewriter, with a camera and editing equipment thrown in for good measure. Some characters have been added to the mix to serve no other purpose than as a set-up for some thuddingly flat gag (with Sean William Scott shoehorned in for absolutely no other reason than marquee teeny-bopper bait) and then never seen again after the gag has been delivered.

Every actor here (except Scott) is completely wasted in this thoroughly incompetent flick. It is rather disappointing, really; Duchovny and Moore spark a good dynamic together (when not forced to walk nose-first into glass doors or drop their pants), approaching their roles with a conviction that is utterly wasted on the material at hand.

But the reason that I’m pissed off instead of merely disappointed is that old irritant of Gratuitous Product Placement. Here Evolution gains the dubious distinction of being as crass as Demolition Man (with its virtual Taco Bell commercial midway through) and Mission to Mars (as Dr. Pepper saves the astronauts’ lives, and a spilled bag of M&Ms creates the epiphany that leads to the film’s resolution). SPOILER: Not that it’s any surprise, but the humans win, but only because of the unique compounds of Head & Shoulders dandruff shampoo. Characters literally take time to note the more mundane benefits of the shampoo as they go about saving the world with it. Sure, perhaps Reitman threw the gag in as a satirical "statement," but it still doesn’t play that way (aside from being a conceit that reeks of hypocrisy). This final misstep took a merely incompetent film and made it infuriating. Cool effects, though.