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Evolution

D: Ivan Reitman / 101m

Cast: David Duchovny, Julianne Moore, Orlando Jones, Seann William Scott, Ted Levine, Ethan Suplee, Michael Bower, Pat Kilbane, Ty Burrell, Dan Aykroyd, Katharine Towne

A meteor crash lands outside of the small Arizona town of Glen Canyon, punching a hole through the ground and coming to rest in a cavern.  A professor at the local university, Harry Block (Jones), is also a member of the US Geological Service.  When he hears about the meteor he heads for the site with his friend and fellow professor, ira Kane (Duchovny).  They meet Wayne (Scott) who was there when the met or landed.  Harry and Ira descend into the cavern and find that the meteor is still warm, and when they begin taking a sample from it, they also discover that it releases a strange blue liquid, almost as if it were bleeding.  They take the sample back to Ira’s lab where he discovers that the liquid contains micro-organisms that appear to be single-celled, and which are definitely extraterrestrial in origin.

He breaks the news to Harry and they go back to the crash site with some of their students on the pretence of conducting a field trip (and to remove the meteor).  They find the beginnings of an entirely new eco-system, as well as evidence of evolutionary advances that are happening far too quickly.  When a flatworm dies from excess oxygen, Ira realises the importance of what they’ve discovered, and convinces Harry to  keep things to themselves until they can assess matters further (it helps that Harry is focused on a potential Nobel prize at some time in the future).

Meanwhile, while working at the local country club, Wayne sees evidence of the flatworms having spread further than the meteor site but he doesn’t say anything to anyone.  Harry and Ira return again to the cavern but are stopped when they find the site has been turned into a restricted military area overseen by General Woodman (Levine).  It turns out that Woodman was once Ira’s boss and that Ira has a checkered past involving an experimental virus that produced some unfortunate side effects.  Helped by Center for Disease Control scientist Alison Reed (Moore), Woodman takes over the site and bars ira and Harry from any further involvement.

While the military continue to monitor the cavern’s growing eco-system, and the creatures that are evolving there, other creatures are finding their way into the local community.  At the country club, one of the members is killed by a creature that is in turn killed by Wayne.  He takes the corpse to Ira and Harry; they later learn that dozens of creatures have died near the meteor site due to being oxygen intolerant.  When one gives birth to its offspring, a dragon-like creature, before dying, the newborn proves able to breathe properly and it flies off to cause mayhem at a nearby shopping centre.  Harry, Ira and Wayne track it down and kill it before warning General Woodman about the growing menace.  Under increasing pressure from the state governor (Aykroyd), Woodman advocates napalming the cavern and the tunnels that spur off from it.  But when Ira and co discover that heat speeds up the creatures’ evolutionary process, they face a race against time to stop them from over-running the planet.

Evolution - scene

An often raucous, good-natured sci-fi romp, Evolution is the type of comic fantasy that makes no bones about how absurd or ridiculous it might be, and throws caution, logic and plausibility as far out of the window as it can manage.  There’s a boisterous, almost schoolboy aesthetic going on, with Jones’ sex-obsessed geology teacher, Scott’s not-so-bright would-be fireman, and Duchovny’s good-natured ex-military scientist proving a good mix, and bolstered by Moore’s clumsy, well-meaning disease expert.  All four are clearly having fun and their enthusiasm, added to the script’s sense of mischief (courtesy of Don Jakoby, David Diamond and David Weissman), makes for an entertaining monster movie that flaunts its lack of scientific realism with wild abandon.

With its focus on making things as fun as possible, Evolution plays out like a movie whose basic concept was probably much simpler, but which, luckily, ended up being a whole lot more involved and wonderfully, gloriously silly.  There’s almost too much to enjoy: Wayne’s practice run at saving a woman from a burning building; Harry’s one-liners – “There’s ALWAYS time for lubricant!” – and extravagant facial expressions; Ira’s mooning of General Woodman; an encounter with Ira’s ex-girlfriend (played by Sarah Silverman); and Aykroyd’s pissed off state governor.  Amidst all the human levity, it would be easy to forget that there are some pretty weird alien creatures to deal with as well, but Reitman co-ordinates things with his trademark ease, and grounds the action with just enough unexpected gravitas to make the threat more credible than it might initially appear.

With the cast on top form, and Reitman orchestrating things with his usual aplomb, the occasional lapse can be forgiven – a cringe-inducing amount of sexist behaviour from Harry, Suplee and Bower being in Ira’s class in the first place (though it’s still funny) – and some of the creature effects are poorly integrated into the action, but there are some great desert locations that are beautifully photographed by Michael Chapman, and John Powell’s stirring score complements the movie throughout.

Rating: 8/10 – preposterous and silly, Evolution is nevertheless the kind of guilty pleasure you can brag about to your friends; even if you only watch it for Harry’s rectal procedure, it will still have been all worthwhile.