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Factory Flop

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Evolution (PG-13)
DreamWorks Pictures

The other day I was told of an informal study that examined the role that popcorn plays in moviegoers' emotions while watching a movie. The study found that people who purchase popcorn are far more likely to respond to a movie -- laugh, cry, become frightened, etc. -- than those who don't buy popcorn. For whatever reason, there is apparently a positive correlation between shoving popcorn into your mouth and appreciating a movie-going experience.

With that in mind, I'd like to suggest that when going to see Evolution you purchase the biggest bag of popcorn you can find. You might want to sneak in some Krispy Kreme doughnuts, too, because if you want to appreciate this movie, you're going to need all the help you can get.

Evolution is the latest comedy from director Ivan Reitman, a man whose career has had nearly equal parts valleys and peaks. He directed the beloved Stripes, Ghostbusters and Dave, but also Junior, Father's Day and Six Days, Seven Nights. With Evolution, Reitman returns to science-fiction comedy, a genre he popularized with Ghostbusters. But this time, he's missing the two ingredients that made Ghostbusters work: funny material and funny actors.

The setup for Evolution is one big fat clich: A meteor hits the desert of Arizona carrying single-cell alien organisms. Two science professors at a local community college discover the organisms and learn that they are evolving rapidly into multiple-celled species of plants, insects, reptiles and so on, all of which are as violent and malicious as movies have always assumed aliens to be. The problem is that no one, particularly the maddeningly stupid government, will listen to the professors or their solution to exterminate the alien critters. In short, extraterrestrials are preparing to take over the world, and these two wisecracking professors are the only ones who can do anything about it. Comedy ensues.

Sadly but not surprisingly, it's only a poor approximation of comedy, as formulaic and worn as a presidential campaign, only not as funny.

Evolution stars a couple people who should know better -- David Duchovny of "The X-Files" and Julianne Moore of a short list of magnificent films, including Magnolia, The End of the Affair and Boogie Nights. It also stars Orlando Jones, a very promising comedian whose young career has thus far given him the dubious distinction of being the best part of bad movies -- The Replacements, Double Take, and now this one. Jones is the best part of Evolution for a variety of reasons. His facial expressions are hilarious, his delivery is pitch-perfect, and he's given the funniest lines ("There's always time for lubricant!" he screams when a doctor is about to give him emergency rectal surgery). Duchovny and Moore do a serviceable job of setting up Jones, but are themselves unfunny. Duchovny's big comic moment comes when he moons -- yes, moons -- a military officer, and Moore has only to stumble occasionally. These things might have been funny before they were clichd, but I doubt it.

It may be too much to ask that every movie give us something new, but I suspect that each time we buy a ticket we're hoping to see something we've never seen before -- a little flair, a tiny twist, anything to give the movie distinction. Evolution offers no flairs, no twists. It's a Hollywood factory wicket, made with the same interchangeable parts as all the other wickets. It's as original as processed meat. Halfway through the film, my wife leaned over to me and said, "This is the kind of movie we always watched at slumber parties in junior high. And this is about the point where everyone would fall asleep."

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