"Coming to wipe that silly smile off your planet."
Ira Kane and Harry Block are science lecturers who investigate reports that a meteorite has fallen in the desert. They quickly discover that the meteorite contains organisms that evolve at an enormous rate, crossing two million years of evolution in a matter of hours. Once the military get wind of the discovery, the site is cordoned off and Kane’s work is taken, preventing him from further studying the evolution of the organisms. Unfortunately for everyone involved, they discover too late that the aliens have advanced to the reptilian stage and begin to burrow up through tunnels to emerge on the surface. With the creatures rapidly evolving and developing human-like abilities, it is up Kane and Block to stop them.
Evolution can be best described as Ghostbusters-lite with aliens. Director Ivan Reitman tries so hard to replicate the same lightning-in-a-bottle as he conjured up back in the 80s. Heck, he tried to repeat the trick with Ghostbusters II – though I think it’s an underrated sequel, it’s still nowhere near the quality of the first one. So almost in lament at not being able to ever get Ghostbusters 3 off the ground, Reitman helmed Evolution and even claimed it was the modern-day successor to Ghostbusters he had always planned to make. The way the narrative develops here is rather similar, with lots of similar set pieces and scenarios for the three heroes to deal with, as well as coming up against an uncooperative authority figure and battling a larger-than-life threat in the finale. It’s not very original but what Evolution lacks in these stakes, it makes up for with an easy-going charm which makes it hard to dislike.
Reitman’s films are usually pacey and energetic, and Evolution is no exception. There’s little time wasted on non-essential storytelling, even if a lot of the plot makes little sense when you think about it (like why two average college professors like Duchovny and Jones’ characters would continue to be kept in the loop long after it’s been established that this is a serious threat to the survival of life on Earth), and the action and comedy set pieces flow fairly frequently. However, there’s rarely a memorable set piece that stands out. Reitman throws lots of special effects at the screen to bring all the various aliens to life and the CGI is as good/bad as you’d expect it to be for a film made in 2001. The main characters have plenty of problems to overcome as they encounter the aliens at different stages of their evolution from the fungi right up to the giant amoeba in the finale so things are kept fresh. It is just that Evolution never really manages to get into its rhythm and it feels like it’s over before it gets going. The action sequences all make sense from the progression of the story, but they never really generate any sort of excitement or tension. Everyone on the screen and behind the camera is trying, it just never gels together in the way you'd hope it would.
The same can be said for the comedy aspects of the film. Unless you like laughing at the sight of a man having an alien insect removed from his rear end (and the younger version of me did find this scene funny), then a lot of the humour here will make you smile, rather than laugh - or not make you laugh at all Evolution is mildly amusing – you’re desperate for it to get funnier and a few scenes and gags really fall flat on their face. The script tries too hard to make the film funny and this isn’t a knock on the writers or the actors involved, it’s just that sometimes a comedy film like this needs a group of actors who can improvise better on the spot during filming to really bring something to life in the weirdest of ways. Imagine working with the likes of Bill Murray on set and the sort of improvisation he would be capable of. Now compare that to someone like Sean William Scott, perfectly fine for a one-dimensional role like this, but doesn’t really come across as a quick-witted individual who could come up with some genuinely funny and witty dialogue on the spot outside of a few fart gags. Evolution is not the first film to be guilty of my next point either – if you’ve seen the trailer, then you’ve probably seen the funniest moments.
David Duchovny, Orlando Jones and William Scott make for an amiable threesome, though they lack a real sense of camaraderie and never quite gel as a trio. Unlike the comic timing and sheer brilliance of the three main leads in Ghostbusters, for all their efforts, both Jones and Duchovny just can’t quite get the same level of hilarity from the story. Perhaps it is because Reitman has pitched the comedy of the film at a lower age demographic, hence the inclusion of William Scott who was making waves in a number of teen comedies in the late 90s and early 00s such as American Pie. Jokes about sex, bodily fluids and farting pander to the lowest common denominator (though I’m not suggesting that we don’t all like a good fart joke) and lack the finesse of more sophisticated humour. Funnily enough, it’s 'serious' Julianne Moore who displays some nice comic timing as the scientist/love interest that makes the biggest impression upon the audience. Dan Aykroyd shows up in an unnecessary cameo role as the governor – how the film could have done with one of his famously fast-talking and intense speeches earlier on.
And if you think you’re going to get through Evolution without some sort of nod or reference to The X-Files and Duchovny’s most famous role, then you’re totally wrong.
Easy-going summer films such as Evolution have a time and place and it seems that they’re few and far between nowadays, which is a bit of a shame. Evolution is likeable enough, innocent enough and entertaining enough, just not as enough as you’d like it to be and fairly forgettable when its all said and done.
Director(s): Ivan Reitman
Writer(s): Don Jakoby (story), David Diamond (screenplay), David Weissman (screenplay)
Actor(s): David Duchovny, Julianne Moore, Orlando Jones, Seann William Scott, Ted Levine, Ty Burrell, Ethan Suplee
Duration: 101 mins