Given the involvement of producer-director Ivan Reitman, it’s hardly surprising that “Evolution” is highly reminiscent of “Ghostbusters.” Like that picture, it involves a trio of smart-alecky dudes doing battle against an otherworldly menace, and relies on lots of frat-boy humor and lavish special effects to carry the day. This time around, however, the foes aren’t spooks but a swarm of alien creatures that have quickly evolved from single-cell organisms carried into the Arizona desert by a meteor and are now threatening the earth. What Reitman is aiming for, quite obviously, is a mixture of his 1984 smash and “Men in Black,” but the new flick is so flat, derivative and tonally insensitive that it becomes this year’s “Mars Attacks” instead. The giant-worm movie “Tremors,” likewise set in the desert southwest, was a good deal funnier and smarter.
Our heroes in the present instance are community college biology teacher Ira Kane (David Duchovny), who–as it turns out–once worked for the government; his fast-talking, hip-hopping geology colleague Harry Block (Orlando Jones), who also coaches the girls’ volleyball team; and local wannabe fireman Wayne (Seann William Scott), a sweet-natured doofus who happens to be the first human to encounter the meteor. Through a series of coincidences they become allies in an effort to halt the infestation of alien beings, an enterprise that brings them into conflict with the typically nasty/stupid army general (Ted Levine) sent in to deal with the crisis. Romantic interest is added in the person of CDC agent Allison (Julianne Moore), who arrives with the army brass but eventually warms to Ira.
The fundamental problem with “Evolution” is that Reitman never finds the proper combination of humor and scares to make it an enjoyably creepy romp. (To see how it can be done, check out Joe Dante’s far superior “Gremlins” movies, which mingle the farcical and the nasty to much better effect.) It doesn’t help that the premise of variegated creatures evolving a few million years per second isn’t satisfactorily laid out in simple narrative terms, but the script is sadly lacking in real comedic flair as well. Each of the three guys is supposed to be amusing in a different way, with Duchovny handling the low-key Bill Murray sort of gags, Jones bugging out his eyes (and sporadically doing a lot of shuck and jive) as the easily outraged black man, and Scott offering the lovably loopy denseness that he’s previously given us in movies like “American Pie” and “Road Trip.” The trio are amiable performers (Duchovny’s hangdog charm, Jones’ comedic range and Scott’s wide-eyed naivete are all attractive in themselves), but the patchy script provides them with little beyond the most puerile, obvious gags (many of which, in today’s fashion, involve derrieres of every sort, along with excretions and effluences too numerous to count)–apart from one isolated line in which Duchovny jokes with his “X-Files” persona. It’s especially sad when a plot twist involving the emergence of apelike beings in the alien evolutionary scheme invites a clever allusion to Kubrick’s bone-swinging simian in “2001,” but even so obvious an opportunity is botched. Moore is treated even worse than her male companions; all the writers give her as characterization is a habitual klutziness that requires her to stumble and fall a lot. Levine is a stock-issue villain, and Dan Aykroyd shows up, presumably as a favor to his old friend Ivan, to strut and rant as the Arizona governor. (Unfortunately, he has nothing remotely funny to say or do.) There are also a couple of obligatorily doltish students of Ira’s (beefy Ethan Suplee and Michael Ray Bower) who help to save humanity in the SFX-laden action finale; they should appeal to the adolescent male crowd. The special effects, one may add, aren’t very special at all, consisting mostly of critters who don’t look much better than those that Ray Harryhausen fashioned so laboriously decades ago or John Carpenter inserted into his version of “The Thing” in 1982. Not even John Powell’s overblown score, which often sounds disconcertingly like one of those rambunctious soundtracks that accompanied western during the 1960s, can make the sequences in which they’re featured very exciting.
In the big climax, it should be noted, Reitman and his writers manage to turn “Evolution” into a weird, grossly flamboyant replay of “The Blob” (complete, one has to point out, with a anal joke that the original thankfully lacked). Perhaps the filmmakers should be reminded that Chuck Russell already gave us a poor remake of that 1958 shlock classic back in 1988. A second wasn’t really needed.