The Darwin Awards

Director: Finn Taylor

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

The Darwin Awards The Darwin Awards (2006) is a black comedy about a homicide detective (Joseph Fiennes) who faints at the sight of blood & thus quite naturally loses his job after one of his spells causes a serial killer to escape.

His hobby has long been researching the lives of Darwin Award winners, those who are annually lauded for cleaning up the gene pool for having died in remarkable & stupid ways.

He needs to find a new job & convinces an insurance company to hire him to further his investigations. If he can identify three key traits that are predictors for people destined to make choices so foolishly dangerous as to cost insurance companies millions of dollars, he'll be able to save them those millions.

He teams up with a pretty insurance investigator (Winona Ryder) & travels about interviewing people who knew Darwin Award winners. Right off the bat we're thrown out of the story because it's hard not to see Winona in her impromptu role in a department store crawling around on the floor stuffing her big purse with stolen articles.

She was always just a cutie & never a great actress, so it's hard for her, without a putty nose or some blackened teeth or something or x-ray glasses, to eradicate that eternal & humiliating revelation of compulsion & permit to the viewer to see her only as the character she's playing rather than the character she is. I'd want her to star in my sinister comedy Klepto Queen but never in anything for which the character needed to be taken seriously. Fortunately, in The Darwin Awards, she doesn't need to be taken seriously.

The set-up of the investigation & research provides opportunities for flashbacks to reconstructions of foolish deaths -- the guy who wanted to prove skyscraper windows are shatter-proof; the man killed by a vending machine; the man who threw a stick of dynamite which his dog fetched back; the girl who thought cruise control on a Winnebago was the same as auto pilot in an airplane.

The Darwin AwardsThere should've been more of these, & better choices, as it's a spectacularly good idea for a movie. But most of the examples chosen work at best only moderately well. It was funny for the first half hour, but wasn't sustained.

The examples the screenwriter/director chose are sometimes urban folklore rather than authentic Darwin winners, & any trip to the Darwin Awards website will reveal a great many awesomely stupid final moments for real people who would've been better choices all round to re-enact in a better film than this one.

A long patch of the film is spent showing how two deadbeat metalheads drove through a fence trying to crash a Metallica concert. While it's marginally funny & well played by the Lukas Haas & Judah Friedlander, it wasn't all that unusual an event & not Darwin Award-worthy.

Much more interesting was the re-enactment of the guy who put a jet engine in the trunk of his car & shot off into the sky to mash into a mountain. As played by David Arquette, this segment is both amusing & in its own odd way heroic. but to pick a nit, this is an urban legend rather than a Darwin winner.

At some point it stops being about the Darwin Awards & more about an ex-cop's redemption for having let that killer escape, & a love story between ex-cop & insurance investigator that is as void of sexiness as any would-be hip or eccentric love story has ever been.

It also turns into the lamest homage to the Beat generation you'll ever see. Despite an amusing but largely pointless cameo appearance by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, in the main the Beatnik references are out of place, not funny, & not half as hip as the writer-director mistook them as being.

Throughout, our leading man is followed about by a documentarian (Wilmer Valderrama) who is rarely seen in the film because always behind the camera. Near the end the film forgets its own point-of-view affectation & the stylistic change to cop comedy makes the film visually a mismatch front to back.

The exchanges between documentarian & Fiennes' character did provide some effectively comic moments, but not much else in the film works nearly as well, & when that relationship changes for the climax, with no more pretense of watching the tale unfold through the documentary footage, it all begins to feel just a bit amateur filmmaking.

In all, a good try, but no cigar. It's the script mainly that fails, an argument against independent productions which lack pushy corporate interests who insist a script be rewritten by two or three other people before filming can begin. Perhaps it's true a great script is destroyed by corporate interference, but a shitty script might at least be rendered competent when the next two people rework it completely.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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