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(2001) (David Duchovny, Orlando Jones) (PG-13)

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Comedy: Two community college professors must deal with their discovery of an asteroid and the life forms on it that quickly reproduce and evolve into various monstrous creatures that could threaten all of mankind.
Ira Kane (DAVID DUCHOVNY) and Harry Block (ORLANDO JONES) are professors at Arizona's Glen Canyon Community College. When an asteroid crashes into a nearby cavern and nearly hits Wayne Green (SEANN WILLIAM SCOTT), a somewhat dimwitted fireman wannabe, Block, who teaches geology and is the local representative for the U.S. Geological Survey, drags Kane, a biology instructor, out to the site to examine the extraterrestrial rock.

After collecting some goo that oozed from the asteroid, the men discover that it's teaming with one-celled organisms whose DNA indicates that they're not from this world. Excited over the possibilities of their discovery, Ira and Harry return to the site with several of their students, including Deke (ETHAN SUPLEE), Danny (MICHAEL RAY BOWER) and Nadine (KATHARINE TOWNE), and discover that the space creatures are evolving at an unheard of rate.

Government officials, including General Woodman (TED LEVINE) and his military unit and Allison Reed (JULIANNE MOORE), from the Centers for Disease Control, soon arrive on the scene and take over. Realizing they've been bumped from their find, Ira and Harry try to figure out how to get back in. Once they do and discover that the species are evolving into monstrous creatures that could take over the planet, they, along with Wayne and others, try to figure out how to stop the disastrous spread, just as Governor Lewis (DAN AYKROYD) shows up on the scene wanting a quick remedy to the situation.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
Evolution (ev' e-loo'shen) noun: 1) A gradual process in which something changes into a different and usually more complex or better form. 2) The latest Ivan Reitman film that proves that the first definition obviously doesn't always apply to cinematic comedies.

I'll fess up -- you probably won't find that second definition in your handy-dandy dictionary. Yet, it certainly fits this big-budget, special effects-laden Hollywood spectacle. That's because while it may look like the second coming of "Men in Black" - what with all of the creepy, crawly and occasionally monstrous looking extraterrestrial critters that populate the story - it's actually just a revamped, if anally obsessed version of "Ghostbusters."

While that in itself isn't a good thing - although if one's going to attempt to emulate a certain type of film they might as well go for the best - the fact that Reitman directed both is both surprising and depressing. Of course, the director has had his share of successful and respected films ("Dave," "Ghostbusters") and those that didn't fare as well ("Junior," "Legal Eagles"), so no one believes him to be infallible when it comes to delivering the cinematic goods.

Yet, why make a film that's so similar in both theme and particulars to one you've done before? Let's make some quick comparisons. Both films feature some otherwise inconspicuous college professors who uncover an otherworldly phenomenon. They collect some of the related goo from that to study, have some run-ins with decidedly dimwitted human characters, and try to contain the various "subjects" (one of which darts around in the air that three of them eventually hunt down with guns). They do that all while dealing with the authorities who don't like them or their plan and in the end, they take out a huge, lumbering creature that explodes and sends goo (rather than marshmallow material), all over them.

Sound familiar? It certainly did to me, and the film clearly suffers from the myriad of inevitable comparisons that will arise within anyone who's seen the far superior 1984 blockbuster. While watching the film - and thanks to the overly obvious similarities - I kept imagining how Venkman (Bill Murray), Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) and Spengler (Harold Ramis) would have reacted to the events. While those characters not only obviously benefited from a clever, well-written and often hilarious script by Aykroyd and Ramis, but also the comedians inhabiting them, this film comes up short in both categories.

Although lead actor David Duchovny ("The X-Files," Playing God,") showed his flair for light romantic comedy in "Return to Me" and often exhibited a very dry sense of humor in his long-running sci-fi series, he's not really the right performer for this sort of role. That has nothing to do with the fact that he's regressed by going back to the type of story and character he was trying to avoid being typecast as in the first place. Rather, his deadpan style of humor - and acting, for that matter - don't generate the laughs like they should and his reaction to the events that unfold - even for a movie of this genre - don't feel right.

Co-star Orlando Jones ("Say It Isn't So," "Double Take") fares better in his role, although one's appreciation of that will probably depend on their tolerance for his over the top physical comedy and facial expressions. It's also nice seeing Oscar-nominated actress Julianne Moore ("Hannibal," "Magnolia") appearing in a decidedly more lightweight film after playing so many serious roles. Unfortunately, the filmmakers opted to portray her here as a clumsy bombshell - she falls on her face while ascending some steps when we first see here - and this comedy approach, that's as old as the hills, simply doesn't work at all here, although that doesn't prevent the filmmakers from repeatedly returning to it.

Seann William Scott ("Dude, Where's My Car," "Road Trip") gets some funny moments as the main dimwitted designee, but Ted Levine ("The Fast and The Furious," "Wild Wild West") can't do much with his stereotypical military character and Dan Aykroyd ("Pearl Harbor," "The Blues Brothers") shows up too late and isn't given enough funny material to make much of a difference. Of course, he also immediately brings up yet another comparison to "Ghostbusters," and only reinforces that he and that films' performers had a script that was so much smarter, wittier and, alas, funnier than this one.

Beyond ripping off the earlier picture, screenwriters Don Jakoby ("Vampires," "Double Team") and David Diamond & David Weissman ("The Family Man") don't take the premise and run far or hard enough with it. The result is a mildly amusing picture where many of the gags and jokes only elicit a random chuckle, when not falling on deaf ears, a point that's exacerbated by Reitman obviously leaving a pause in the ensuing dialogue and action, as if anticipating where the laughter will be. Far more often than not, however, that audience reaction doesn't occur.

To make matters worse, Reitman and company seem to have followed other comedies down the regressed path of trying to elicit laughs from crude humor. Not only are we "treated" to a view of actor David Duchovny's bare rear end plastered up against a windshield as he salutes a general, but there's also a discussion about an alien's posterior, a scene where that part of the body serves as the surgical entry point for the removal of an alien intruder from a man's body, and the sight, related sounds and enema-like related moments concerning the unsavory end of the alimentary track of one humongous alien creature.

While there's a time and place for that sort of comedy, all of the juvenile "butt" humor feels out of place in this special effects extravaganza. As far as that element of the film is concerned, the visuals - courtesy of Oscar winner Phil Tippett ("Jurassic Park," "Return of the Jedi") and his visual effects team - are moderately fun to watch, but aren't as revolutionarily imaginative or effective as one might expect.

In "Ghostbusters," the special effects - while dated looking now - not only blew away viewers, but also served as sweet icing on top of a delicious, multi-layered comedy cake as they alone generated some big laughs. Here, most of the effects are present just as eye candy, and actually don't come off that much more impressive than what was seen in "Men in Black" or the "Jurassic Park" films.

Despite all of that, the film possesses enough of a generally amusing and lightweight aura - it's not difficult to sense that it never takes itself seriously - to overlook or at least accept some of those problems and shortcomings and thus see this as a marginally passable affair.

It's just too bad that the plot and its various elements feel recycled and that the writing contains so many jokes that aren't funnier. In the end, and as is the case with most films, only time and audience reaction will determine the odds of survival for this picture at the box office, but it doesn't seem highly likely that it will spawn too many, if any, cinematic offspring. "Evolution" rates as a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed June 5, 2001 / Posted June 8, 2001

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