Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 1:37 - Released 6/8/01

Poor David Duchovny. The guy has been fighting for years to get loose of The X-Files, and now that he's doing feature movies, he's cast as the same character. Evolution, which serves as Duchovny's first starring role in a major feature other than The X-Files (I'm not counting the quiet and low-key Return To Me, in which he served admirably as the romantic lead), is basically a comic version of the famous sci-fi TV show with which the actor has become inextricably associated. With meteors full of strange ooze, vicious aliens attacking the Earth, and a sexy redhead to play opposite him (this time it's Julianne Moore), this material is certainly nothing new to David Duchovny. I just wish it were more interesting.

Written by David Diamond and David Weissman, based on a story by Don Jakoby, and directed by Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters), Evolution blurs the line between comedy and horror. Duchovny plays Dr. Ira Kane, a community college professor in Arizona who was a respected military scientist until an experiment he was conducting went wrong, infecting hundreds of troops with anthrax and resulting in his dishonorable discharge. Ira's best friend is geology professor Dr. Harry Block (Orlando Jones), and when a large meteor drops near their campus, they think this might be their ticket to the big time — especially when they find the meteor is filled with alien one-celled organisms rapidly evolving into complex creatures. Within a few days the crater caused by the meteor's impact is crawling with bizarre flora and fauna, and that's when the government steps in.

Headed by Ira's old nemesis, Gen. Russell Woodman (Ted Levine), the Army soon has the area cordonned off with an airlock constructed over the crater's entrance, and not even Ira and Harry are allowed in. Leading the scientific investigation is deputy director Dr. Allison Reed (Moore), who, when she's not tripping over things or running into walls, does her best to keep the rogue scientists out. But as the investigation proceeds, Ira and Harry always seem to be one step ahead of Dr. Reed's team, discovering key information about the rapidly growing alien ecosystem and encountering several truly strange creatures along the way. Soon they realize that if action is not taken, the entire U.S. could be crawling with an infestation of strange, hostile beasties.

As I mentioned, Duchovny is not called on to do a lot of stretching from his X-Files persona, although in this scenario he's working against the government instead of for it. Counterbalancing his straight-faced characterization is Jones, who injects much needed humor into the mix with his patented afrocentric antics. Moore is uncharacteristically bland in her role as the accident-prone Dr. Reed; between the pratfalls she seems barely present. Also on hand are Seann William Scott (Road Trip) as the local fireman-in-training who first discovers the meteor, and Dan Aykroyd as the governor of Arizona.

This movie should be funnier that it is. It wants to be funny, and it has moments, but there's a sober tone throughout Reitman's presentation that undermines the humor time and time again, a fact that is exacerbated by Duchovny's Mulder-like style. There are, of course, many interesting creatures and effects, and much clever dialogue, but the film never seems to gel as a comedy nor as straight science fiction. The ending is strangely anticlimactic and leaves a few loose ends, as if Jakoby's story were either truncated or not fully developed. However, in the glut of summer action movies, Evolution serves as passable entertainment, diverting our attention for a few hours until something else strikes the Earth. ***½

Copyright 2001 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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