Unnatural Selection

Survival of the fittest doesn't affect the summer box office, so 'Evolution' has a chance.

Like most Americans, I have been eagerly (well, anxiously) awaiting the next Ivan Reitman film for some time. Reitman is the Czechoslovakian comic mastermind who, in the tradition of his countryman Franz Kafka, has made such films as Junior, Kindergarten Cop and Ghostbusters II.

Well, his latest has finally arrived, and it's every bit as creepy and unnerving as one of Kafka's short stories. Imagine Metamorphosis brought to the screen by someone who's good friends with Danny DeVito. Brrr!

Since Evolution is about rapidly evolving alien life forms that take over the Glen Canyon area of Arizona (insert your own joke about snowbirds here), I figured I should bring some scientific help with me to review this film. Thus, I enlisted the aid of my friend Candi, an evolutionary biologist.

The film opens with a giant meteor crashing into our beloved state. Soon, it starts to ooze the primordial essence of life itself, which pools about it and begins to evolve. Scientist Ira Kane (David Duchovny) is brought in to analyze the organic ooze, and is startled to discover that it changes rapidly from one-celled organism to flying pterodactyl form when exposed to heat.

Here's where Candi got upset: She noted that evolution doesn't work this way. According to Darwin, there must be a competitive stress on the environment that selects for certain traits, which then, slowly, over millennia, become more prominent until speciation occurs. Of course, ever since her spread in the January issue of Maxim magazine was canceled due to pressure from creationist groups, Candi has been pretty testy about proper portrayals of gradualist evolution in comic cinema, so I figured it was not such a big deal.

Anyway, the alien organisms start to wreak havoc by going to the mall and not buying anything. This causes the U.S. government to send in their best agents, who, as anyone who pays any attention to the news well knows, have about as much good judgment as the Bush twins.

With the army rapidly screwing things up and causing the alien organisms to multiply further, it's up to a ragtag band of scientific adventurers to set things straight. Sadly, this rag-tag band includes a character played by Orlando Jones, that really annoying guy from the 7-Up commercials. If you were ever too weak and feverish to turn the channel when Live at the Improv did a best-of-the-'80s show, then you've pretty much heard every joke he utters in Evolution. Still, he gets to stretch his comic talent when an alien entity invades his lower bowel and must be removed with an enormous set of forceps. It's that old comic rule in effect: When the laughs get slow, go anal!

After the alien is removed from his anus, the film begins to drag a little. Well, a lot. Actually, this is almost an hour in, and there hadn't been any laughs up to this point either, so I guess "starts to drag" is a bit charitable. More like "continues to drag." To put this in perspective, try to imagine this: I was actually glad when Dan Aykroyd came on screen.

Aykroyd plays the male governor of Arizona, which is a bit of stretch for him, as he's never been known to make racist comments or misrepresent his finances for the purpose of receiving illegal loans. Still, he looks like a Republican, so I guess he's as good a pick for the role as anyone.

While the governor and the army make plans to eradicate the aliens, the ragtag band of scientific adventurers get their own plan together. Their plan involves a lot of Head and Shoulders shampoo. So much Head and Shoulders in fact, that the film slowly morphs into a Head and Shoulders commercial. This is actually its one clever element, but since it comes after 90 minutes of laughter-free comedy, it's a case of too little, too late.

Since I didn't enjoy this film at all, I asked Candi if she could think of anything nice to say about it. She said that its one redeeming quality was David Duchovny. She thought that he did a good job representing an evolutionary biologist, in spite of the film's technical flaws, because he was so sexy and deadpan, just like Stephen Jay Gould. Also, he had this unchanging, sly smile throughout the whole film that seemed to be an acknowledgment of the fact that he was in a movie, and a stupid movie to boot, but was nonetheless enjoying himself.

I had to agree: Duchovny was fun to watch. But I'm pretty sure he'd have been more fun if he'd had better material. Candi suggested that next time, he should just make a movie where he reads aloud from The Origin of Species. No doubt that'd be a lot funnier than Evolution.

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