The Darwin Awards
Rated R; Directed by Finn Taylor; Starring Joseph Fiennes, Winona Ryder, Wilmer Valerrama, D.B. Sweeney, Tim Blake Nelson
The Darwin Awards is one of those quirky little independent films that can have lots of potential. Some independent films live up to their potential; others don’t. The Darwin Awards is one that tries and doesn’t quite meet that potential. Let’s call it not a failure, but more of an underachiever. There is a lot to like in the film, but it never quite comes together, and at times drags. Yet, the idea of seeing all those great moments described in the Darwin Awards (awarded to folks who do something so obviously stupid resulting in their death, thus weeding them out of the gene pool) offers some entertainment.
Michael Burrows (Fiennes) is a brilliant police detective who can solve crimes with his superior understanding of human nature, but he has one major weakness: fainting at the sight of blood. When this fault intrudes in the line of duty he loses his job. His obsession leads him to working for an insurance company and investigating strange accidents. There’s the guy who straps a military jet’s engine onto his car, the ice fisherman who uses dynamite, the driver of an RV who misunderstands what cruise control means. Along with Michael is Siri (Winona Ryder) who hates the idea of being teamed with Michael. Michael also has to deal with a student filmmaker (Wilmer Valerrama) who is making a documentary about Michael and his failure.
The movie is a comedy, a romance, and a strange little film. The humor is low-key and though writer and director Finn Taylor has an interesting premise, he keeps things so low key that the movie never takes off. Joseph Fiennes is interesting and Winona Ryder is funny. There’s fun in the segments of people knocking themselves off by being incredibly stupid. Several familiar actors make cameos as these award winners, including David Arquette, Chris Penn, Juliette Lewis, Tom Hollander, Julianna Margulies, Lukas Haas, and a funny appearance by Metallica.
So even with segments of watching profound stupidity the movie never creates enough energy to bring more than a chuckle. Watching Michael spin out of control is interesting and the start of his contentious relationship with Siri is nicely set up, but falls apart with the story requiring an action sequence to bring things to a semi-satisfactory ending. Due to its faults the movie is not quite the success the concept deserves, but it still is an interesting film and does have its moments.
If you’re looking for a movie that shows the ability of humans to behave as stupidly as possible, The Darwin Awards fulfills that need. If you want a humdinger of a comedy, the film fails. If you are into watching something a bit different, then The Darwin Awards may not underachieve for you.