directed by Ivan Reitman
(Dreamworks, 2001)

Director Ivan Reitman -- whose biggest success, Ghostbusters, justly became a comedy/fantasy classic -- attempts to reprise the formula in a science-fiction comedy, Evolution, with moderately pleasing results.

A meteor crashes into the Arizona desert and is discovered by the lovably daffy wannabe fireman Wayne (Sean William Scott). He soon is joined at the scene by a pair of affable protagonists, Ira (David Duchovny) and Harry (Orlando Jones), a biologist and a geologist/woman's volleyball coach from the local Glen Canyon Community College. Their study soon uncovers microscopic alien life; the aliens soon become widely evident as they evolve within days into flatworms, a variety of bugs and, eventually, pteradactyls, other dinosaur-like creatures and even into aggressive primates resembling gorillas.

Dinosaurs attract attention, and the Army soon arrives to secure the area, discovering a cavern below the crash site where an entire alien ecosystem seems to be taking hold. The military leader, the arrogant Gen. Woodman (Ted Levine), has an unpleasant past history with Ira but, despite his efforts to bar them from the scene, Ira and Harry are determined to be heroes and earn fame and fortune by defeating the menace. They win to their side the lovely and intelligent but klutzy Center for Disease Control epidemiologist Allison (Julianne Moore), who inevitably becomes an "item" with Ira.

The humor, in what also proves to be a suspenseful story, emerges from the characterization and the chemistry that comes from the interactions of talented performers spoofing serious images, especially when Duchovny moons his ex-boss and takes a tongue-in-cheek shot at his alien-busting role in the popular TV hit show The X-Files. Much mirth also comes from Jones, who knows what usually happens to the black lead in these films. Fortunately wrong in this case, he gamely survives some gross indignities to climactically administer his payback in the form of an intentionally outrageous product-placement dandruff shampoo enema via fire hose to the now huge, mall-sized mass of alien protoplasm that threatens life-on-Earth as we know it. American Pie stalwart Scott delivers his share of amusement to the proceedings, and Dan Ackroyd adds to the fun in a cameo role as the befuddled governor of Arizona.

Evolution, with its entertaining mix of otherworldly suspense and comedy, features a plot that reminds the SF-savvy viewer of alien-ecosystems-threatening-Earth genre novels by David Gerrold and Ian MacDonald, yet the film never quite addresses the issue of destroying a life-form that seemed to be developing intelligence equivalent to ours, for a simplistic Darwinain survival of the fittest attitude overrules. Despite this, the movie is worth seeing for its pleasing performers, dazzling special effects, a fine score and excellent cinematography. Compared to Ghostbusters, Evolution comes up short and all too easy to describe with puns about devolution -- but that dismissiveness is unwarranted, for the film offers enough thrills, spills and laughter amid the chills to satisfy.

[ by Amy Harlib ]
Rambles: 8 July 2001

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