Evolution

With Evolution, director Ivan Reitman dusts off the formula that served him well in his two Ghostbusters films. But there’s a new crew on hand this time. Instead of Dan Ackroyd, Bill Murray, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson, it’s David Duchovny, Julianne Moore, Orlando Jones and Seann William Scott struggling to save the planet. And the creepy creatures they’re fighting are from another galaxy instead of merely just the spirit world. On the surface it sounds like very old wine in new mutant alien bottles, but even given its hoary heritage it’s surprisingly wry and funny.

Glen Canyon is a sleepy hamlet in northern Arizona where Dr. Ira Kane (Duchovny) heads the junior college’s biology department. His best friend Harry Block (Jones) teaches geology. Ira and Harry both get involved after a meteorite craters out in the desert, a meteorite that strangely bleeds a glowing blue substance when struck with a rock axe. Under a microscope, the blue goo turns out to be filled with thousands of one-celled creatures. Ira and Harry are overjoyed, they figure they’re on their way to a Nobel Prize. But when their repeat examination the next day shows that multi-celled organisms are now present – something that on earth took hundreds of thousands of years – they’re puzzled, and worried. The alien beasties continue to evolve at an astronomical rate, and the US Government eventually gets involved, to the tune of several hundred Army troops and a perky but uncoordinated epidemiologist from the CDC named Allison (Moore).

If you’ve seen either of the two previous Ghostbusters features you’ll easily be able to write the rest of the script yourself. Naturally, the government is big, obtuse, and incompetent, our trusty crew has to deal with skepticism, tall odds and scarce resources, wisecracking all the while. The creatures will continue to get more inventive and challenging. Of course, Allison and Ira won’t hit it off at first, but eventually will… well, you know.

For a premise that’s already been seen in two previous incarnations, one wouldn’t think that Evolution would have much to offer. There are even scenes that seem to be lifted whole from the Ghostbusters films. There’s one where Duchovny, Scott and Jones down a flying alien much like Ackroyd, Ramis and Murray did, except now they’re using pump-action shotguns instead of proto-pack blasters. But even given the similarity to his previous films, Reitman manages to pull it off, mostly due to the good-natured banter between the characters. It’s their camaraderie that pulls the film along from scene to scene–the players are obviously having a great time and their comic energy is contagious.

The film starts slowly and wryly, and continues on a dry vein that is able to mine humor from even the simplest of scenes. There are very few "Hey look, this is a JOKE!" moments; most of the laughs come from pithy retorts delivered with a thin-lipped smile after a beat or two, particularly by Duchovny, who shows a flair for comedy only hinted at during his run on TV’s X-Files. Orlando Jones has a wonderful physical comedy presence. He can denote more with a raised eyebrow than Tom Cruise can with a dozen anguished forehead grasps, and can generate laughs just by walking a certain way. They’re a well-matched pair onscreen. Julianne Moore does a surprisingly good comic turn as well. Her CDC official supplies most of the pratfalls in the film besides serving as the token romantic interest for Ira. Seann William Scott isn’t asked much more than to play the requisite local doofus with a heart of gold and fills that role with boyish charm.

Given that it’s almost totally made of leftovers, Evolution is a surprisingly hearty stew. You may not remember a second of it not long after its conclusion, but while onscreen it’s a pleasurable enough summer trifle.

– Bob Aulert