- The Washington Times - Friday, June 8, 2001

''Evolution" may prove adequately amusing if you dont demand much in finesse or staying power and if you conveniently forget such superior forerunners as "Ghostbusters" and "Men in Black."

Ivan Reitman, director of the "Ghostbusters" comedies, also is responsible for "Evolution." This return to science-fiction spectacle and farce finds him short of virtuoso comedians (there´s one, Orlando Jones) and clever explanations for fantastic and potentially catastrophic events.

The original script was reputed to be a straight thriller. In revamping it for humorous emphasis, Mr. Reitman seems to have overlooked a crucial snag: The accelerated evolutionary process supposedly triggered by a meteor that crashes in the Arizona desert suffers from extravagant growth spurts. When the emerging life forms get large enough to be menacing, the movie starts to look like too many other things.

The meteor has come to rest inside a cavern. An exceptionally attractive habitat is simulated at one juncture by production designer J. Michael Riva and visual-effects supervisor Phil Tippett (who realized all the belligerent bugs in "Starship Troopers"). The underground array of plant and insect species looks so good that one can understand wanting to protect and observe it indefinitely.

A half-baked conflict arises when two community college faculty members who arrive on the scene early, David Duchovny as biology professor Ira Crane and Mr. Jones as geology professor Harry Block, are given the bum´s rush by government officials. Ted Levine is especially guilty of this as a stuffed-shirt general, Woodman, who nurses an old grudge against Ira. Not that it matters, but we´re told Ira suffered professional disgrace while employed as an Army medical researcher.

The underdogs persist in keeping tabs on the strange new life forms that thrive up to a point. Exposed to oxygen, these life forms seem to suffocate, giving the filmmakers a potential escape clause from calamity.

A young aspiring fireman, Wayne — Seann William Scott of "Road Trip," also a Reitman project, although he didn´t direct it — was the only eyewitness to the meteor impact, and he joins the team. So does Julianne Moore, an epidemiologist who falls down a lot and initially mistrusts Mr. Duchovny´s character. The two become a compatible set of washouts as a farcical love match.

A set of conspicuous dummies — hulking moronic brothers played by Ethan Suplee and Michael Ray Bower — are maneuvered into crucial positions to save the populace of the nearest town from monster devastation.

That prospect seems to shift the movie in a stale direction. Mr. Tippett´s smallish critters remain fascinating, but this run terminates with a doglike slug found in a suburban closet. When the evolutionary gallop leads to dinosaurs that resemble the raptors in "Jurassic Park" (also one of Mr. Tippett´s projects) and then primates that recall the apes in "Congo," the novelty interest starts to decline.

At this point, you´re reminded that "Men in Black" got way ahead of "Evolution," which stalls at the monster phase and never exploits the comic potential in alien infiltration of or convergence with the human population.

When "Ghostbusters" writer and co-star Dan Aykroyd drops in for a guest appearance as the blustering governor of Arizona, you´re also reminded that the "Ghostbusters" movies boasted a stronger first string than "Evolution."

Mr. Jones is left to keep the physical comedy percolating on reserves of caginess and rubber-faced versatility, although the obligation to keep reminding us that he´s the black guy becomes redundant to a fault.

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