Written by David Diamond, David Weissman, and Don Jakoby
Directed by Ivan Reitman
Ivan Reitman is responsible for many financially successful 1970s/80s comedies. He produced Animal House and directed Meatballs. This lead to pictures like Stripes, Ghostbusters, Twins, and more. As a kid, my feelings about Reitman’s movies were pretty much limited to Ghostbusters and Kindergarten Cop, and we watched them a lot. As an adult, I find his work to not hold up very well; Ghostbusters has been the only one I’ve enjoyed revisiting. I think the style of comedy Reitman made during those decades doesn’t work anymore, and it’s pretty evident with this film.
Professor Ira Kane (David Duchovny) and his colleague Professor Harry Block (Orlando Jones) are alerted to a meteor crash outside of Glen Canyon, Arizona, where they teach at the local community college. The meteor has nestled into the cavern system and is inhabited by single-celled organisms that are dividing at an alarming rate. Before they know it, they have become multi-cellular creatures and are becoming aquatic and insectoid. The U.S. military shows up at the crash site and takes over with Kane and Block, knowing they are making all the wrong decisions. These two men find unlikely allies with CDC Dr. Allison Reed (Julianne Moore) and trainee firefighter Wayne (Seann William Scott). The creatures keep evolving into larger, more dangerous forms, and they must come up with some unconventional solutions.
Evolution is not funny. It is one of many comedies from this period that became so enamored with the spectacle that they lost sight of being comedies or even developing their characters. One of the biggest problems with the picture is there is almost zero threat. The aliens are set up as being kind of dangerous but more wildlife than sinister alien invaders. They are just evolving at a faster rate than life on our planet. I think it would have been more interesting if Kane and Block wanted to stop the military from killing these new species and find some way to preserve them, so they didn’t harm life on Earth. Instead, the conflict is “the military won’t kill them right.” That’s a much less exciting premise, in my opinion.
We end up getting a 21st-century reimagining of Ghostbusters that seems to have forgotten what made that film so enjoyable. Duchovny is not a comedic actor like Bill Murray or Dan Akroyd, and so his attempts to play what is essentially a Murray role falls totally flat. His smart-alec act just doesn’t work for the type of actor Duchovny has always been. Orlando Jones is a little better, he has experience in comedy, and he finds funny ways to deliver some of his lines. He is definitely the stronger comedian between the pair. Sean William Scott is basically playing his persona in every film he was in during the early 2000s, and it’s forgettable. Julianne Moore is utterly miscast as a female love interest whose only comedic trait is being clumsy. It isn’t funny the first time you see it, and it certainly doesn’t get funnier.
There are many set-piece moments, but they never feel engaging, and I found my mind drifting a lot while watching this movie. They are clearly excited about the puppets and CG they have employed for the picture but rarely do much interesting with it beyond some bathroom humor. There were a few moments, like a group of women discovering a deceptively innocent-looking creature in the kitchen and a shopping mall being terrorized by a dragon-like creature that should have been more the focus of the movie. If they were trying to recreate Ghostbusters, they should know we liked seeing the characters out in the field going after ghosts. Here they try to have long subplots about Kane’s past and his rivalry with the military villain, but those are so boring.
Evolution appears to have wanted some of the Men in Black clout, but it also taps into things like Gremlins and Tremors. Where it goes wrong is it never really analyzed why people enjoyed watching and rewatching those movies. They have charismatic & funny lead and supporting characters. Evolution is devoid of that entirely, and it makes sense why this has been such a forgettable artifact of the new millennium. Reitman didn’t know how to translate what he does into this new century, and he should have stepped away from the director’s chair.