There’s a sharp strain of jokily mutant ”X-Files” paranormality to the proceedings of Ivan Reitman’s Evolution, which suits ”X-Files” alumnus and ”Evolution” star David Duchovny well in his most effective and appealing demolition of Mulderhood since he flirted with Garry Shandling on ”The Larry Sanders Show.” (That’s not counting the thespian’s deadpan narration of the softcore, bedroom eyes Showtime series ”Red Shoe Diaries.”) Duchovny, it turns out, is strongest when he’s playing off an already established persona, whether it’s Fox Mulder or his own brainiac frustrated by TV fame reputation.
Here, he plays Dr. Ira Kane as a sort of ”there but for the grace of Scully” loser, a variation on the famously dour Mulder DNA. Busted down to community college teacher for messing up as a government scientist, Kane joins his happy-go-lucky colleague Harry Block (Orlando Jones) to investigate the new meteor site in town, only mildly interested until microscopic analysis reveals a profusion of one-celled organisms that quickly evolve: to flatworms, to swimming and flying things, to fantastical prehistoric creatures, and even, in one leap of big bang triumph, to a menacing hominid.
Friendly cooperation is not on the agenda with these aliens. (Some creatures, indeed, sport that fanged head within a head physiology made popular by the genuine, accept no substitutes ”Alien.”) Neither is it on the agenda of the officious Army types who quickly move in to manage the site, naturally making things worse in the way authorities do in Reitman comedies. As an epidemiologist who means to be all buttoned up business but whose klutziness exposes the nifty, sexy gal underneath every time she trips or walks into a door, Julianne Moore throws herself into pratfalls with endearing gusto, the dumb and dumber predictability of her gawkiness offset by the novelty of the shtick, a kind of dented Clarice Starling. As a local would be fireman who joins the alienbusting amigos, Seann William Scott of the geek freak comedy ”Dude, Where’s My Car?” plays? another dimish young man.
”Evolution” has got too many bugs in its system: The script, written by ”The Family Man”’s David Diamond and David Weissman and ”Vampires”’ Don Jakoby from Jakoby’s original story, is weirdly uneven, and with Reitman’s tendency toward loose pacing, slack punchlines twist all too slowly in the wind. (This really takes its toll on the Dumb Old Army sequences.) On the other hand, the movie is visually witty and even marvelous when it comes to depicting the spectacular creatures evolving at a speed previously known only in the Bible. Going forth and multiplying under the direction of visual effects supervisor Phil Tippett, who previously helped give birth to dinosaurs in ”Jurassic Park” and giant insects in ”Starship Troopers,” the aliens in ”Evolution” are generations more advanced and interesting than the rudimentary goo that was the building block of ”Ghostbusters,” and Reitman’s integration of human and special effects has also progressed since Dan Aykroyd teamed with Bill Murray and Harold Ramis 17 years ago as ”paranormal investigators.”
You remember Aykroyd, don’t you? Large guy, plays the one man in America who sees the Japanese attack coming in ”Pearl Harbor”? In ”Evolution,” he plays the governor of Arizona, an elected official just this side of refreshingly nuts, that side of blithely sane. The gov is an Aykroydal living organism at its most effective, and happily, Ivan Reitman knows better than to fool with Mother Nature.