When Movies Fail: 2001’s “Evolution”

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Evolution, directed by Ivan Reitman, should have been everything I sought for in a movie. I was still a huge X-Files fan when it came out, and the flick was largely shaped as a star vehicle for David Duchovny. Some sort of alien-conspiracy goodness seemed to be promised, and it even had a devil-may-care three-eyed smiley face logo that I might have seen before in other cool and counter-cultural entertainment

And yet, I never saw Evolution. And even before the smallest bit of motivation gripped me to climb out of my basement apartment and actually see this movie in the theaters, it had already gotten horrible reviews and audience buzz. And then…

movieposter.jpg…and then, a few months after Evolution came out, 9/11 happened. And an interesting thing about that…for many years I swore to God that the film had really come out in 1999. I still can’t believe it actually hit theaters in June of 2001.

And so we had entered the post 9/11-era, and wacky “alien of the week” flicks like Evolution and the Men In Black movies just weren’t in vogue anymore. We were moving into an increasingly paranoid and divisive period in cinema, in which there was pretty much nothing “funny” about disasters, attacks, and the End of the World. It just wasn’t a good time for gigantic alien anuses. But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself.

Well, I finally saw Evolution—and it’s pretty bad. You know: like 75% straight-up unfunny even though it’s a comedy. What the fuck happened with that movie? How could Reitman—who was clearly angling for another Ghostbusters, complete with Dan Aykroyd in a cameo—put out something so utterly devoid of true levity and heart?

Men In Black is like Citizen Kane next to Evolution.

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And I hate to say it…but a lot of the problems I have with the film involve Duchovny as the lead. It was obvious he was cast in this movie because he played Fox Mulder in The X-Files, his character is some sort of ex-agent guy with a shadowy past just like Mulder…he should have at least been “Mulder.” I wouldn’t have minded that it ripped off X-Files, it at least would have been entertaining.

But instead—I guess because he felt he had to “break free” from the X-Files pigeonhole and become a true movie leading man—Duchovny generated zero charisma in the film! I mean, he was a complete blank slate; almost as if he had been drugged to guarantee that he would be as monotone and lifeless as humanly possible.

This effectively torpedoed any chance Evolution had to be another Ghostbusters. And it’s a real shame, because Orlando Jones was probably the only genuinely funny actor in that entire movie. Evolution should have been this huge break-out role for Jones…instead, he had one alien crawl up his anus, and then he was stuck inside a gigantic liquid-spewing alien anus.

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😦

What was up with all this stuff regarding Jones and anuses? It doesn’t age well when your only character of color goes through one long forced anal penetration metaphor earlier in the film “for laughs,” and then ends the film being anally spooged “for laughs.” Especially when he is literally the only engaging actor in your alleged comedy, and is single-handedly holding the entire production up on his shoulders. (Sorry, Seann William Scott)

The premise of the film—that alien microbes have landed on the Earth via a meteor, are rapidly evolving (from single-sell organisms to dinosaurs, primates, etc.), and are set to take over the Earth—that could have been cool. But the CGI is so bad here that…it just feels like the actors are interacting with animation.

But it all comes back to Duchovny, unfortunately. He’s positively lifeless here; and thus the movie becomes lifeless as well. He was hired to essentially “do” X-Files (with a similarly lifeless Julianne Moore as the red-headed Scully character)—and then he decided not to do that.

51ZF6093TXLAnd you can see how much Dreamworks was hoping Evolution would become a franchise in the MIB vein by the fact that 26 episodes of an animated series based on the movie called Alienators: Evolution Continues, were made to run concurrently with the film’s release. And I sampled that show as well—it literally features an unholy blending of the three-eyed logo and Pikachu as the mascot.

And there you have it: when films with very high hopes fail. Had Evolution came out several years before, it might have done well. But it was the wrong film at the wrong time with the wrong lead. Plus: a really cynical Head and Shoulders product placement!