After the disappointing box-office of Six Days Seven Nights, the so-called (by publicity departments, anyway) “King of Comedy,” Ivan Reitman, returns to the sort of thing he does best with the utterly formulaic Evolution. If Reitman’s film feels a little too by-the-numbers, that’s probably because he’s made the thing at least twice before — Ghostbusters, Ghostbusters 2 — and the director was likely on autopilot this round, except for when he was borrowing someone else’s formula by aping Men in Black. However, this is not entirely a Bad Thing. The Reitman formula has its merits. As usual, the movie boasts an above-average cast, solid production values and a fair share of laughs. Evolution is what it is: a big, noisy, silly, messy, popcorn picture that never pretends to be anything else. It’s the movie equivalent of driving through McDonald’s and getting a Quarter Pounder with cheese and large fries: You know exactly what you’re going to get and exactly what it’s going to be like. It’s not adventurous and not especially rewarding, but it fills the void in a painless — even strangely comforting — manner. The worst thing about Evolution is that it’s just not as funny as it wants to be and probably thinks it is. It doesn’t so much matter that the plot is recycled from earlier Reitman outings: Instead of malevolent ectoplasmic manifestations we have malevolent alien life-forms; instead of a giant monster that feeds off and grows from the bad vibes of NYC, we have one that expands from the heat given off when it’s attacked by a napalm-happy general. What matters is that we wait and wait for the really big gags and Evolution never quite delivers them. There are good sequences in the film — notably the one where an alien life form needs to be extracted rectally from Orlando Jones and a few others that nearly reach a similar level of comic absurdity. Somewhat surprisingly, Reitman plays the film’s shock-effects remarkably straight and delivers quite a few decent jolts in the bargain, though he’s careful to keep them at the “gotcha” level that allows the viewer to laugh at himself for jumping. Numerous people have expressed reservations about Evolution’s ending — that it’s ripped off from Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks! (in itself ripped off from Attack of the Killer Tomatoes), that it’s silly, etc. This is true, but it’s really not that much sillier than the endings of a number of “real” sci-fi films. The problem is more that it’s just not funny enough to provide a satisfying conclusion. The film propels itself almost entirely on the appeal of its stars, who seem to be enjoying themselves and manage to convey at least some of that enjoyment to the viewer. David Duchovny knows he’s trading on his X-Files image (“You don’t want to get involved with the government — I know those people”) and revels in the fact. Julianne Moore is quite aware that she’s a “serious” actress on holiday in a silly movie. Orlando Jones and Seann William Scott are just glad to be showcased in a better movie than Say It Isn’t So and Dude, Where’s My Car?. Reitman regular Dan Aykroyd enjoys the knowledge that, even though he’s just along for the ride, he can walk into almost any scene and take it over without trying. The players are so likable that you can’t help liking the movie … but you also can’t help wishing you liked it a little more.
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