When Wayne (Seann William Scott) was out practicing for his fireman’s exam one night, he went out to the middle of the Arizona desert and set fire to a small shack which he then “saved” a dummy from, but just as he was congratulating himself on a job well done, he caught sight of a light in the sky. It was too big to be a star, not the right shape for the moon, and it was making a noise and heading his way – it was a meteorite, and he had to flee as it smashed through the ground, taking his beloved seventies muscle car with it. This quickly alerts the interest of the scientific community, first of all lecturers at the nearby university Ira Kane (David Duchovny) and Harry Block (Orlando Jones), and when they arrive on the scene they find plenty to investigate…
Evolution was one of the expensive flops of 2001, a would-be effects-and-jokes-driven blockbuster that most audiences failed to respond to, apparently because it wasn’t the film mentioned in conjunction with every review that covered it: Ghostbusters. There were certainly plenty of rather basic similarities, a maverick group of scientists facing potentially damaging opposition from the authorities as they try to stop an otherworldly threat, not to mention the presence of Dan Aykroyd in front of the cameras and Ivan Reitman calling the shots behind them, yet this lacked the one thing that made the eighties classic as great as it was, not necessarily originality, more some really killer jokes.
The thinking behind this appeared to be Reitman making up for the fact Ernie Hudson had so little to do in comparison with his co-stars in Ghostbusters, leaving him verging on the token black man character, though the actor’s personality managed to alleviate too much of the potential for being patronised by the white writers and cast members. In this case, Orlando Jones was given a lot more to prove his qualities as more than a simple African American face to fill out the producers’ idea of diversity, often making quips about his colour and the culture of his race in the United States, yet this all came across as the unenviable task of not demonstrating how cool Jones could be, it was more to do with proving David Duchovny had soul (cue gratuitous singalong to Play That Funky Music, White Boy).
Whereas, for instance, Cleavon Little and Gene Wilder in Blazing Saddles had an easygoing banter that served the script to create a classic, Evolution was just trying too hard for its credentials, and wound up looking forced, especially when the material constantly fell back on broad slapstick assisted by the fast-developing, computer graphic beasts the meteorite has spawned. This left genuine wit thin on the ground and for such a premise the invention was even thinner, so while it appeared as if Jones and Duchovny were enjoying one another’s company, unless you bought into their supposedly hip and happening relationship you were going to find damn little of this actually amusing, you really had to set your expectations for undemanding.
Take Julianne Moore as the token love interest for Duchovny (Jones didn’t get one of those, so much for equality), whose main shtick was to fall over a lot. Unless she had suffered a brain injury recently, this went unexplained and her scientist Allison was yet another example of a supposedly intelligent woman in a mainstream movie at the turn of the millennium who went for uncomplicated laughs by toppling to the floor, only she did it a number of times, and it wasn’t funny in the first place. Heaven forfend they thought up some actual jokes for Moore to deliver, fair enough she wasn’t known for comedy on the screen but no wonder when this is what she was given to do. But Evolution wasn’t a total dead loss, mostly down to the interesting science fiction notion of speeded up natural selection and they obviously had fun thinking up the creatures. It was just that sticking too close to the Ghostbusters template didn’t give it room to breathe, nor deliver its own distinctive humour unless you liked Jones urging Duchovny to be as supposedly cool as he was. Music by John Powell.