Under the Radar: Genre Movies You May Have Missed — Evolution

I love the mainstream, popular, and critically acclaimed films as much as the next person. The last thing I’d consider myself is a cinematic snob. But there are times when a truly amazing movie slips into—and out of—theaters without much buzz before fading into obscurity. So I’d like to bring a few of those gems back into the light and remind you that sometimes the blockbusters aren’t the only films that can give you plenty of bang for your buck.

When you say “aliens” and “David Duchovny” in the same sentence, almost everyone will assume you’re talking about The X-Files. But Mulder also faced off against unpleasant invaders from space in another, lesser known project: Evolution.

Dr. Ira Kane (Duchovny) is a washed up military biologist forced to slum it as a professor at a community college in Arizona. He’s pretty much resigned himself to permanent obscurity—at least until a meteor crashes into the nearby desert and Kane discovers the rock contains microscopic extraterrestrial life-forms.

Joined by friend and fellow professor Harry Block (Orlando Jones), Kane sees this as his big chance to get back into the serious scientific community. But when the aliens begin evolving and multiplying at an exponential rate, things get out of control rather quickly.

As more and more people have dangerous encounters with the hungry aliens, the military shows up and starts interfering. Kane’s infamous past—which involves unauthorized vaccine testing that led to some unpleasant side effects known as “the Kane Madness”—comes to light. And sparks fly between the discredited professor and CDC scientist Allison Reed (Julianne Moore).

Wait, that’s not Scully!

With the help of would-be firefighter Wayne Gray (Seann William Scott), the heroes will have to use their knowledge of science to curb the spread of the invasive aliens—and stop the trigger-happy military from napalming the entire state.

Directed by Ivan Reitman, who also gave us Ghostbusters and Kindergarten Cop, Evolution is very firmly tongue-in-cheek. Duchovny may be playing the straight man in this sci-fi comedy rather than the devoted believer he’s best known for, but he’s still romantically entangled with a sharp redhead. Definitely no coincidence there.

Orlando Jones—an actor everyone should be familiar with thanks to his current turn as cop Frank Irving in the delightful supernatural series Sleepy Hollow—is probably my favorite thing about the movie. His Harry Block is over-the-top, outspoken, and hysterical. A particular scene involving a mosquito alien and a rushed medical procedure never fails to bring me to tears of laughter.

And I’m typically impartial when it comes to Seann William Scott, best known for his raunchy teen comedy roles, but he’s actually rather wonderful as the enthusiastic Wayne. His serenading of a dragon alien in a mall is enough to win my permanent affection.

The rest of the supporting cast is great, too. There’s a cameo by Sarah Silverman as one of Kane’s bitter exes; the governor is a surly Dan Ackroyd; Ty Burrell of Modern Family fame is a slimy military officer; and Ted Levine—Buffalo Bill himself—is the asshole General Woodman.

Some aliens are scarier than others.

An alien flick is only as good as its alien threat, and the creatures in Evolution are equal parts weird, amusing, and creepy. False heads, spines and tentacles, blue lizard-primate hybrids—the design department obviously had a lot of fun. And it’s also nice seeing an equal balance of CGI (which has stood up rather well over the past decade) and practical effects; I’ll always prefer seeing prosthetics and animatronics over computer graphics in creature features.

The physical comedy may be broad—Allison is ridiculously clumsy and our heroes don’t hesitate to indulge in some victory singing/dancing after eliminating a dragon alien—but for anyone who enjoys a healthy diet of slapstick and Mel Brooks-style humor, it’s all in good fun. There’s also some absolutely brilliant and quotable dialogue; Orlando Jones in particular makes superb delivery choices.

You’ve gotta love a movie where science nerds and misfits save the day. And when it comes to product placement, I struggle to think of a more amusing one than the shampoo that becomes incredibly important in the climactic fight.

Product Placement!

Evolution is one of those goofy movies that slipped into and out of theaters without much fanfare, though it did well enough to warrant a short-lived cartoon series spin-off that I can remember watching on Saturday mornings.

This is an especially fun film to watch with a group, perhaps with a few drinks handy. It never takes itself seriously and it goes over well with folks familiar with Mystery Science Theater 3000—it’s not a picture you have to pay super hard attention to to enjoy fully. Just the thing for a loud party this Halloween, when people may not be up for anything too scary or too thought-provoking.

Angie Barry wrote her thesis on the socio-political commentary in zombie films. Meeting George Romero is high on her bucket list, and she has spent hours putting together her zombie apocalypse survival plan. She also writes horror and fantasy in her spare time, and watches far too much Doctor Who. You can find her at Livejournal.com under the handle “zombres.”

Read all posts by Angie Barry at Criminal Element.

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