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This was a movie I was really looking forward to at Sundance. We're all familiar with the Darwin Awards, a website started by Stanford molecular biologist Wendy Northcutt to humorously recognize extremely stupid acts that lead to self-inflicted, accidental death. Northcutt's notion is that the human gene pool improves when these tragi-comic figures, who are presumably plagued by genetic stupidity, are removed from the population. Hence the Darwin Awards (www.darwinawards.com).
It sounds like a terrific premise for an outrageous comedy and like the rest of the audience I was licking my chops. Unfortunately, this movie was about as funny as Origin of the Species. Director Finn Taylor has made a couple of refreshingly oddball films (Dreams with the Fishes, Cherish) but The Darwin Awards fails on almost every level.
The concept was probably doomed from the outset by the decision to incorporate a bunch of award-winning events into a linear storyline, including madcap crime investigations and a little love interest. Casting Joseph Fiennes and Wynona Ryder as the leads was the second mistake, as neither of them was right for their parts (and despite their efforts, came off very flat). Follow that with writing that is simply not very clever and you have a disappointing movie.
The vignettes do include some great casting choices, including Chris Penn, Tim Blake Nelson, David Arquette and Metallica. But unfortunately, they are lost in the woeful script, and give us only the occasional funny moment.
As many have heard, actor Chris Penn was found dead at his Santa Monica home the day of the Sundance premiere. Finn Taylor had some nice words to say about Chris prior to the screening. And afterwards Winona Ryder, who had known Chris for 15 years, spoke at length about him. "He wasn't just Sean's younger brother," she said. It was a genuinely nice tribute.
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