After watching the dedicated but deadpan-silly scientists in Evolution as they face off against otherworldly critters, not to mention against bureaucratic fools who won’t take the scientists seriously, I was left with a deep and intense desire to revisit Ghostbusters. That 1984 summer classic, which like Evolution was directed by Ivan Reitman, works so beautifully after all these years, I think, because of its equal measure of irony and gee-whiz excitement — the former embodied by the jaded Bill Murray, the latter provided by costars/coscripters Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, who exuded an intellectual, visceral passion for paranormal science. Also, it was funny (an entire generation still fondly recalls the Stay-Puft marshmellow man).

Part of the problem with Evolution — aside from the fact that it isn’t really very funny — is that it’s mostly jaded; there’s very little gee-whiz, almost no awe. The trio of scientists this time are biologist David Duchovny, geologist Orlando Jones, and epidemiologist Julianne Moore; non-scientist Seann William Scott, a doofus wannabe fireman, makes it a quartet (just as non-scientist Ernie Hudson rounded out Ghostbusters). In early scenes, when Duchovny and Jones discover a virulent form of alien biological crud that arrived here on a meteor, they’re mildly excited, mainly because of the promise of fortune and glory. They’re not overcome with scientific ecstasy the way Aykroyd and Ramis were; they’re two Bill Murrays.

The alien life form, it appears, can evolve at breakneck speed and split itself via mitosis into multiple organisms. The script, by Don Jakoby, David Diamond and David Weissman, tries on a little scientific gibberish for size but largely abandons it in favor of lukewarm one-liners and jokes about flatulence and anal probes. I don’t feel audiences have gotten that much stupider since the huge hit Ghostbusters in 1984; I think it’s more that screenwriters have gotten lazier. Evolution, much like Men in Black, is an indistinct string on which to hang gross-out alien gags. It hasn’t evolved from someone’s obsessive interest, the way Ghostbusters sprang from Dan Aykroyd’s fevered brow. And that, I promise, is the last comparison I will make to Reitman’s far superior paranormal comedy of 17 summers ago.

What’s left? Well, the laconic Duchovny and the funky Jones (who has yet to show his comedic stuff in a good movie) make a good, smart team. I’d like to see them together again, acting out a wittier script. Julianne Moore defines “good sport,” playing a dorkette whose major character trait is clumsiness; Seann William Scott, from American Pie, gets the movie’s most genuine laughs, particularly when he tries a hideous rendition of “You Are So Beautiful to Me” as a way to attract a huge flying bird-thing. (If the movie had any wit, it would’ve had the bird swoop over and capture Scott, lovestruck by his mating call.) Aykroyd — Dr. Ray Stantz himself — turns up as a governor apoplectic at the damage the aliens are doing to his beloved Arizona, and his presence is welcome but also saddening to those of us who remember … Oops, almost made another comparison.

The aliens, fashioned by an ace team including the KNB EFX trio, Phil Tippett (Jurassic Park), and crittermakers Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff Jr. (the last two Alien films), are certainly convincing as icky alien pestoids. What they aren’t, especially, is funny; they’re built more for horror than for comedy, and the climax gives us a massive, Lovecraftian shape that threatens to engulf Arizona but also, alas, has a rectum and flatulence problems (scenes like that make you think the movie should be called Devolution). Guess which “entry point” the heroes must choose to introduce their special pesticide. Guess what happens then. Guess what becomes of Duchovny and Moore, whose romantic attachment seems to develop entirely between scenes. And guess what DVD I’m going to watch in a few minutes.

Explore posts in the same categories: comedy, one of the year's worst, science fiction

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