Evolution was the big-budget box office bomb that was director Ivan Reitman’s attempt to recapture the magic of Ghostbusters. Only this time with mutant aliens instead of ghosts. This movie had everything working in its favor: David Duchovny hot off his X-files run, and a huge budget with state-of-the-art special effects. So what went wrong? Possibly it’s a script that was written on train station toilet paper while grunting one out. Seriously, let’s check out how a 4 star movie on paper went so wrong.
Ivan Reitman was mired in a cinematic losing streak. In desperate need of a hit, he resorted to doing a rip-off of his own Ghostbusters and failed miserably. Seriously, after Dave (1993), he makes Junior, Father’s Day, Six Days Seven Nights, Evolution, and My Super Ex-Girlfiend. All are varying degrees of bad, and all lost truckloads of money. So he goes back to the well and tries to rekindle the magic of Ghostbusters and it sucks. Ivan Reitman already made Ghostbusters 2 with all the original talent involved and that was a turkey. It’s harder than it looks to recreate a cinematic masterpiece.
Because Ghostbusters is a cinematic masterpiece. It’s a brilliant script, with comedic actors finding a special chemistry after years of working together while striking the right balance of funny and scary. I know, it’s not particularly scary but it’s a little bit scary. Certainly the Dan Aykroyd ghost BJ scene is horrifying.
Evolution follows the Ghostbusters template, with a team of scientists (well, three scientists and a moron) who are the only ones who can solve an outbreak of mutating aliens invading an Arizona desert town. We’ve got Duchovny as the horndog one, MadTV‘s Orlando Jones as the mugging one, Seann William Scott as a dumb, wannabe fireman, and Julianne Moore as a klutzy scientist who only joins the team at the very end. The guys discover an alien invasion. There’s a scene where they get arrested and a scene where they have to convince an authority figure to let them stop the invasion. But where are the jokes? This movie just isn’t funny.
Duchovny is supposed to be the sarcastic Venkman character, commenting on the outrageous action, but he’s just the straight man here and a dull character. He wants the discovery of the aliens for fame and fortune. Jones wants fame and fortune. Moore wants fame and fortune. Scott wants to be a fireman. I can’t remember any of their characters’ names. They’re all one note caricatures in a nonsensical plot.
I think the main problem is that the mutants are so badly thought out. They start out as worms, but they’re supposed to be evolving. So they become bugs, then monsters, then dragons? Then finally a giant blob monster with a big butthole. It doesn’t make any sense. Compare this to Men In Black, the B version of Ghostbusters. Someone put a lot of thought into the bizarre alien races. There’s one that looks like a talking pug dog, some that disguise themselves as humans, and bugs that wear the skins of humans. They’re all pretty unique and that movie does a good job of creating this crazy menagerie. These aliens are all supposed to be the same species but they don’t make any logical sense. One pig beast does the standard movie alien trope where he seems all innocent before surprisingly biting someone. Then, in the only funny scene in the movie, a mosquito alien climbs into Jone’s hazmat suit and proceeds to try to invade his butt.
What I’ve noticed about these bad horror-comedies, like The Watch last week, is that the ghostbusting and monster hunting is incidental to the movie. There’s all sorts of plot business getting in the way of the movie we want to see. In The Watch, it’s some tired sit-com quality family melodrama. In Ghostbusters, the busting of ghosts is the point of the movie and all the jokes and all the character moments are in service to the plot. This movie goes out of its way to prevent the scientists from studying the aliens. Duchovny and Jones get their specimens taken away by the army, then they get arrested, and then their lab is robbed. It’s frustrating. And then, of course, there’s a long, boring shoot-out with a dragon in the mall. Why do all of these movies feature incompetent lilly-livered scientists who suddenly turn into murder machines after opening a case of guns? That joke is tired. And worst of all, in the big finale, the gigantic alien stand-in for the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man is an undefined, amorphous blob. All the aliens are pretty well designed but this last one is a badly animated tub of pink mush. So unimaginative.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Evolution was sold as a successor to Ghostbusters but failed to make an impression in people’s memories, and since it only grossed a fraction of its budget, nobody went to see the movie to forget it later. And here it is on home streaming, presumably because Duchovny’s X-Files has been re-booted and they’re still hoping to one day make their money back.