The Darwin Awards (2006)
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The movie stars Joseph Fiennes as a police profiler whose unfortunate tendency to faint at the sight of blood (he's phobic) causes him to get discharged from the force. Finding employment with an insurance company, he's partnered with experienced, hot-shot investigator Winona Ryder, who specialises in bizarre and unusual claims. Together the two of them travel back and forth across America, examining various strange accidents.
One of the things I liked most about this film is that the accidents that Fiennes and Ryder investigate are all based on well known urban legends, and such modern-day myths have always fascinated me. I own many books on the subject, and have enjoyed previous movies that have either used an urban legend as a starting point and then built a story around it (for example, Dead Man's Curve, When a Stranger Calls, and Lover's Lane), or have featured several legends (all three Urban Legends movies, and the anthology film Campfire Tales). Therefore, I got a huge thrill seeing several urban legends reenacted in The Darwin Awards.
Although it's an independent production, the movie has an impressive budget and features many big name stars in cameos (including Chris Penn in his last role - he died the day before the film debuted at Sundance). However it went straight to DVD, both in America and here in the UK. I suppose it's hard to market an offbeat, character-led black comedy in which most of the laughs are generated by people getting either seriously injured or killed. Personally, I liked it a lot.
Most of the Darwin situations, i.e., what the nutty victims did, were priceless, particularly the fellow who attached the missile to his car. The actors who played the husband and wife who were nearby made those characters very believable.
The comedic writing was good. The quips between Fiennes and Ryder were great! I hardly ever watch a movie twice, but I would watch this one again just to hear them go at each other, and to watch with even more of my friends and relatives to share the lighthearted fun. Sarcastic but cute give and take in a conversation is not easy to write, but the writers succeeded here.
Fiennes's range is wide: all the way from well-acted serious films such as "Luther" and particularly, "Leo," to this light and happy, very good-for-a-Saturday-afternoon provider of laughs.
Winona Ryder is adorable in this movie. She is the girl next door in a push-up bra. I want her to shoplift in my store and so will you after you see this movie. The cameo by the two guys from The Myth Busters is a classic. I saw it at the Berkeley premiere before Sundance and would see it again.
There is, in the eyes of this work, a duality of man that shifts between normal, safe and acceptable behavior and insane actions that may often lead to one's death. Throughout the movie, David Arquette's character is straining to discover what it is, exactly, that drives an otherwise normal human being to acts of profound stupidity and danger. The character's goal shifts from an attempt to discover a common profile for these people into something more personal and real.
However, the movie ultimately fails on this premise. While it does raise the question, it never bothers to give us an acceptable answer. The best it has to offer comes from Ryder's character regarding 'a maze of automatic telephone voicemails' when dealing with insurance companies. Arquette's character can't seem to come close.
Overall, the look and feel of the movie is fresh and original. While it borrows from a number of different styles that will immediately be recognized, but it brings them together in a wonderful way. In addition, the soundtrack to the movie is superb.
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.
Joe Fiennes plays a police detective who is thrown off the squad due to his propensity to faint at the sight of blood. He and Ryder's character get together and try to find out what makes these "Darwin Award" winners tick. I am not sure that point is ever resolved in this film, which is part of the reason why it is uneven. Also, there is just no chemistry between Ryder and Fiennes. I really didn't care whether or not the two of them "got together" or not.
There are a few laughs in the film as the Award "winners" demonstrate what they did to "win." The problem is that they just didn't effectively sum up the movie. It was a little confusing. I will probably rent the DVD when it comes out so that I can see if I just missed it. Another problem is the documentary "filmmaker" who tags along. Why? He seems pointless.
All in all, we had a great time at the screening; Fiennes, Valderrama, Burrell, and Brad Hunt, as well as Finn Taylor, and the author of the book (The Darwin Awards) led the Q and A session afterward. That was the best part of the screening! My recommendation is that if you want to see a good Finn Taylor film, rent "Cherish".