Gabby: So it is my turn with a sci-fi pick, and I went with…
Jeremy: Evolution. David Duchovny and a group of somewhat lovable misfits rush to stop an alien threat that’s evolving as rapidly as the script’s color wheel of rewrites.
Brett: Gabby, let’s start with why you like this movie. What about it struck you?
Gabby: Well for one thing I hadn’t watched it in years. I thought it might be a great dynamic for us. With that and the fact that neither of you had watched it before, if I am correct?
Brett: Not only had I never seen this movie, I knew nothing about it. Seriously, everything I knew about this movie was on the DVD cover. Not the back cover, mind you. The front cover.
Jeremy: I skipped it in theaters because of the reviews. I rented and never finished it – though I didn’t turn it off voluntarily. I can’t remember what happened, but some minor emergency popped up and ate up the rest of the night. I had work in the morning and the video was due back. I just said, “Yeah, I’m good.” Pretty sure I stopped right before the mall scene, which is a shame: it’s the highlight of the movie.
Gabby: I really enjoy that mall scene.
Jeremy: It works because they’re doing something. There are way too many exposition scenes and other dithering about. The movie goes out of its way at times to avoid the aliens. It’s another sign that they probably didn’t know the movie they were making during filming.
Take the elephant in the room, Ghostbusters (another film directed by Ivan Reitman). Bill Murray and company are busting ghosts by, what, the thirty-minute mark? About an hour into Evolution, I threw my hands up in the air in frustration and said, “Oh great, now they’re sitting down for breakfast…”
Brett: I want to start positive. I will say, I didn’t hate it, but I had a hard time keeping hold of it. I felt like the plot was going to dissolve in my hands like spun sugar at any moment. It’s a little frustrating, because I can easily imagine a version of this movie that really clicked and fired on all cylinders.
Jeremy: There were only a few scenes where I actively hated this movie, mostly when Julianne Moore was treated like a redheaded piece of meat. Right about when Orlando Bloom had a surprisingly long and crass rant about Julianne Moore, wanting to shag David Duchovny, I thought I was going to have to go the full Jeremy on this movie. Then, an alien insect flew up Orlando Jones’ ass. And since his character deserved an unwelcome anal intrusion at the time, my feelings turned less hostile, reverting back to ambivalence. By the end, I was like, “They kinda tried.”
Brett: I checked online. This was a straight forward sci-fi movie before a rewrite added jokes to it. In a way, this doesn’t work for the reason Ghostbusters does. In Ghostbusters, the movie is serious. It is only the reactions, or cool lack there of, that makes it funny. The situations are never inherently comical.
In this, too many situations are made comical, and those are the bits that most failed to land. It wouldn’t take much to make Ghostbusters a sci-fi / horror movie. It would take a hell of a lot to make Evolution a serious movie. Even though, you can see the serious movie it once was peeking out in several scenes. That’s what made it so frustrating. I would be getting into it, we’d be driving along just fine, and then they’d plow the car into a snow bank.
The more I think about it, the more parallels I can draw. I could almost do a “this worked in Ghostbusters, and this is why it doesn’t work here.”
Jeremy: I was going to bring up the script rewrites if someone else didn’t. What I’m curious about is whether the jokes also changed through the production. Something clicked for me when I looked at the DVD box art and noticed this: “From the people who brought you Ghostbusters and Road Trip.”
True, Ivan Reitman was involved in both movies. I suspect that, as this was being rewritten into a comedy, it more closely resembled Ghostbusters, Then, someone got cold feet about the budget or how things were going on the set or something, and they started adding more dick and fart jokes, in the hopes of catching the American Pie crowd.
It’s not like you can’t enjoy Ghostbusters and Road Trip, but they’re not exactly chocolate and peanut butter together.
Gabby: The sex and fart jokes are so bad. I just wish the other element of the fun won out. We don’t need that. We can laugh at the scenario.
Brett: When the leads work, they work. Orlando Jones and David Duchovny both manage to be funny in different ways while still being good looking and charming. I kept seeing the Reitman who made Ghostbusters when they were discovering things together. There were genuinely fun moments, like the three guys in the Jeep after killing the dragon thing in the mall. It’s not a hilarious scene, but you get the idea that they are enjoying being together at that moment.
They’re celebrating, and it feels kind of real.
Jeremy: I should add for our readers that we all watched Ghostbusters together during F This Movie Fest. I’m sure we would’ve compared both films anyway, but it’s unavoidable now after watching them so close together. I wish there was a line of dialogue here half as good as the worst joke in Ghostbusters. The only memorable gag I remember is during the mall scene, where Duchovny and company leave the price tags on the shotguns they just appropriated. That’s pretty inspired.
About the mall scene: what is up with the young woman in the changing room who gets snatched by the monster? I was thinking to myself, “What is going on with her? Why is she so angry? Is this a tough mall? Did her backstory about suffering a changing room-related trauma get cut? And most of all, what is this movie’s beef with women?”
Brett: The problem is sort of profound. I don’t get it. I didn’t get the young woman’s whole thing. It’s kind of disappointing. Not just her, obviously. As I said in the live tweet, I felt like we were in another time and place.
Gabby: There is also the problem that another time and place might not even have this. Look at The Thin Man, 1934. Myrna Loy is, as smart, funny and brilliant as William Powell. And they are made greater by each other.
Jeremy: And it’s not just mall girl. During her introduction, Julianne Moore gets her skirt accidentally hiked up so we can see the ’40s pinup undergarments she’s wearing. A little while later, Duchovny’s ex-girlfriend, who isn’t mentioned before this scene, shows up mostly to take off her shirt and show off her bra-clad boobs. I should add that Duchovny’s ex is played Sarah Silverman. How can you hire these two extremely talented people and then just treat them like objects?
Brett: Here’s the thing. It’s not just that Julianne Moore is wearing a garter belt and stockings, its that they actually go to the effort of mentioning it in the dialogue. Duchovny’s little outburst at the diner to Sarah Silverman is clearly supposed to be a moment where we’re on his side and women just be cray-zay, yo.
Even though he is clearly being the dick, we’re supposed to be rooting for him.
Gabby: Are we really supposed to be rooting for him? Because I never felt that. He’s asking for his shirts back, in the most uncivil manner. He’s being a dick. I always, just took it for granted maybe, that everyone sees it as him being a dick.
I really hate the way they treat women in this film. There are a lot of things though that ease my problem with that. Firstly, Allison is really smart. She also sticks it to government bullshit. Those guys need Allison for sure. Also, and this is the big one, she is played by Julianne Moore.
Brett: I actually find the three guys oddly charming when they work together. Orlando Jones is a lot more interesting than I had thought he would be.
Gabby: We all love mistfits. We all hate misogyny (I hope). So the misogyny wins. And I end up caring for their team because: a) Julianne Moore b) Allison realizes that the government’s let’s ‘blow the shit up’ idea of a solution is insane. c) The fact that the movie has a go at teasing American political history. This bombing solution has been posed as a solution by these type of world leaders, many times before after all. There might lie a smarter movie, way, way under the bullshit.
Jeremy: Yeah, the weird thing is that, even though they’re a roadblock, the military isn’t portrayed that badly here. It’s another example of the “we’ll find the jokes as we’re going” vibe I get from this movie. The movie has no strong opinion about them. Maybe there’s an anti-authority sentiment here, but not really.
And it’s odd how much the townsfolk fade in and out of the picture. Several of them – Seann William Scott’s boss at the country club, the young woman at the mall – really stand out, because they’re so abrasive. As Ghostbusters proves, Reitman is excellent at making his locations part of the story. Whether hastily removed or added in, I get the impression that the town – largely an upper-class, planned community – was meant to play a larger part.
It’s a fun – if nasty – idea that this small town full of rich, entitled people, who wanted to get away from anything that scared or offended them, gets attacked by all these biological horrors. It reminds of Gremlins in a way. I wish Reitman had committed to that idea… if it was intentional.
Brett: Interesting idea.
Jeremy: I’m also trying to think of another movie where the enemy base/point of origin is discovered by the good guys in the first ten minutes, and they keep kinda going lazily back and forth from it as the story needs. It plays almost like an old Doctor Who story.
I like that Duchovny and Jones first react to the idea of alien life with curiosity instead of panic. That’s a rare touch. Just to make sure I didn’t miss something, we have no reason to believe this is an alien invasion, right? A meteor with alien goo crashes on Earth by chance, and the evolution of these creatures is basically like space kudzu, right?
Gabby: It is kind of like The Blob (1958) in that way.
Brett: I was thinking, this movie would have been a lot more like Ghostbusters if Seann William Scott had started the movie as the side kick. Make it these two scientists and their kind of meat head buddy who actually gets it right sometimes.
You can actually see how these three would get along as buddies if they’d had more time. We didn’t need to waste all that time before we got them together.
Gabby: I think despite the head and shoulders commercial, the scene where that little fire truck full of misfits try to battle that alien is an example of their gun ho efforts. This is a weird way to save the day. It is kind of funny, we kind of like these people. And it’s creative. The film has enough of that stuff for me to warrant the couple of times I have seen it.
Jeremy: I would’ve loved to have been a fly on the wall during the marketing meeting when Head & Shoulders committed to this movie.
“Sir, someone wants to use our shampoo in their movie. It’s an important plot point, and the movie’s by that guy who did Ghostbusters!”
“How important a plot point? What happens?”
“They put 500 gallons of our shampoo in a fire truck and then shove a hose full of the stuff up a giant alien’s ass. They use our product to kill it!”
“Well, now that I say it out loud…”
“Did I mention one of the characters says our shampoo leaves their hair flake-free?”
“Make sure our contract says that line stays in the picture.”
Brett: I think that’s why it hasn’t got any kind of following. 5% stupider and it would be a glorious disaster that we’d go see at midnight. But it never really goes off the rails, it never goes completely crazy. Even the shampoo thing has an air of “and then the solution is something crazy… like shampoo or something?” Rather than “And the solution is dandruff shampoo! Because it’s got chemicals in it… you know?”
One is trying to be wacky, and the other doesn’t even fully grasp that normal humans would find this batshit.
Jeremy: We’re getting a little long on words. Final thoughts, everyone?
Brett: I wish this movie was either better written or more badly made. If the movie making was as inept as the script, it could have been dumb fun. If the actors were struggling against impossible odds, it could have been fun. It’s in that uncomfortable area where it’s not good enough to be good, but not bad enough to be dumb fun on a Saturday night.
Jeremy: We’re on the same wavelength, Brett. It’s not a hidden gem. It’s barely even a curiosity. And this movie’s treatment of women is something else. I just realized that, whether intentional or unintentional on the part of the filmmakers, this was a thread that ran through all three of our picks this time around. Admittedly, we’re talking about hard-to-defend films, but it’s still a troubling aspect of the sci-fi/fantasy genre that still needs some, well, evolving.
Gabby: You do have to give it to this movie. It is a mess. But, as Jeremy said, they sure try. It’s a lot of fun because they seem so gun ho. Even if that means it doesn’t work. It tries. More effort went into making this than some movies. Maybe ones about cars robots for example.
Jeremy: Thanks for reading, everyone. This was the last movie in our block of sci-fi movies. Next up, each of us will take turns trying to defend a not-so-loved comedy, starting with Young Einstein. Please follow us on Twitter, where we live-tweet every movie before discussing it. See you in two weeks!