The Darwin Awards Review
By Christopher Null
Poor Finn Taylor can't catch a break. By all reports he's the nicest guy in the world, and he typically toils for three or four years on each indie flick he directs. When they finally hit the screen they flop. His last outing, Cherish, was a bizarre story about a cop falling in love with a girl under house arrest who he's assigned to watch. I guess it wasn't bizarre enough, though. I had to reread my review of it just to fully remember what it was about. Cherish bombed with a $180,000 gross.
Four years later, Taylor drops another oddball flick on us, and the trouble is obvious before frame one. For starters, the name of the movie is The Darwin Awards, which sounds like it's going to be a documentary about those nutty people who kill themselves doing stupid things, thus earning posthumous "Darwin Awards" (as written up in a series of books of the same name) for ridding the gene pool of their DNA.
The plot encapsulating this concept involves an insurance investigator (Winona Ryder) and an incredibly paranoid detective (Joseph Fiennes) who awkwardly investigate a series of such cases together. It's a road movie at its heart. Naturally they have a romance, too. The movie is packed with Darwinesque reenactments, and jammed full of indie favorite actors -- Tim Blake Nelson, Robin Tunney, Juliette Lewis, to name but a few -- not to mention the punch of Fiennes and Ryder as headliners. How could this miss? Well, the powers that be didn't think so: The idea proved so wacky it didn't even merit a theatrical release, as near as I can tell.
The problem is that, much like Cherish, The Darwin Awards tries so very hard but just doesn't manage to be very funny. Sure, there are little moments here and there: Darwin is funnier than Cherish because it turns out it is amusing to watch a woman punch cruise control on an RV and walk away from the wheel or watch David Arquette strap a jet engine to his car and rocket into the sky, smashing into a mountain. A vertible Iwo Jima of cameos are on hand to offer dry commentary on all of this, from Metallica to the Mythbusters.
Alas, it just isn't enough. Fiennes' safety-obsessed profiler is a too-broad caricature, while Ryder's part is far underwritten. The script is just a series of connecting scenes as we go from one Darwin spot to another, held together by what's now become a gratingly unwatchable conceit: A documentary film-within-a-film that is following the action, which we in turn are following too. Darwin could have been vastly improved by dropping this ghastly attempt to give the movie an extra layer which could better have been used on fleshing out its otherwise apt leads.
I know Taylor has a good movie in him, and I'm willing to give him the chance to prove himself, even if I'm 120 years old by the time he gets the job done.
Facts and Figures
In Theaters: Wednesday 5th July 2006
Box Office Worldwide: $309.4 thousand
Production compaines: Blumhouse Productions
Rotten Tomatoes: 25%
Fresh: 3 Rotten: 9
Cast & Crew
Starring: David Arquette as Harvey, Ty Burrell as Emile, Josh Charles as Paramedic, Kevin Dunn as Insurance Exec, Nora Dunn as Mrs. Pearlman, Joseph Fiennes as Michael Burrows, Judah Friedlander as Simon, Lukas Haas as Farley, Tom Hollander as Henry, Brad Hunt as Stan, Juliette Lewis as Joleen, Julianna Margulies as Carla, Tim Blake Nelson as Perp, Alessandro Nivola as Ad Exec, Chris Penn as Tom, Winona Ryder as Siri Taylor