THE DARWIN AWARDS
Director/Screenwriter: Finn Taylor
Executive Producers: Charles Hsiao, Laurie Miller, Steven Siebert
Producers: Jane Sindell, Johnny Wow, Jason Blum
Cast: Joseph Fiennes, Winona Ryder, David Arquette, Juliette Lewis, Metallica, Wilmer Valderrama
U.S.A., 2005, 93 min.
*The Darwin Awards are a real-life phenomenon presented to individuals who improve the human gene pool by removing themselves from it when they accidentally kill themselves in incredibly stupid ways. Writer/director Finn Taylor develops this irony with a deliciously dark comedy that revels in the notion that truth is stranger than fiction...and a hell of a lot funnier.
The stories in The Darwin Awards are integrated into a narrative about two characters grappling with their own destinies. Burrows is a brilliant detective with a special talent for profiling criminals. Siri is a hard-nosed insurance investigator whose steeliness and "throw-caution-to-the-wind" attitude is exactly the opposite of Burrows's thoughtful hesitation. When Siri's employer hires Burrows to create a profile for potential Darwin Award winners–who are costing the insurance company a fortune–the two begin a search for the answer to what makes these people tick.
Taylor returns to Sundance (Dream with the Fishes, Cherish) with an epic comedy that boasts a dream team of acting talent. Joseph Fiennes exudes an intelligence that is the perfect foil to the absurdity happening around Burrows, while Winona Ryder displays a brazen strength and maturity that is a revelation as Siri. Combining these performances with numerous tasty cameos, Taylor weaves humor, romance, and adventure into a highly entertaining film.
*Summary by Trevor Groth, SUNDANCE Film Programmer
I went into this film expecting a lot out of the premise of the Darwin Awards. The online awards are sometimes so darkly funny and amazingly ludicrous, that I feel like I could watch a whole film consisting of 'best of' reenactments Darwin Award 'winners'. The best parts of this film were when Rube Goldberg-like puzzles of strange death were sarcastically described and demonstrated. For instance, the bungled attempt of two stoned Metallica fans trying to break into a Metallica concert felt like one of the convoluted deaths of a Final Destination-typed movie, just with far more humor. Also of note were the Darwin Awards based on the perils of ice fishing with shotguns and showering in bungee gear.
However, the filmmakers felt the need to add a conventional plot to the proceedings, and that is just what the movie ends up as, conventional. Joseph Fiennes plays a neurotic investigator of these type of deaths as Winona Ryder joins him as the feisty and angry sidekick. There is no rhythm to the scenes between these two; sometimes they are at odds with each other, other times they are appearing to fall in love. If there was a progression to these scenes of intimacy, that would make sense, but there are scenes in the film that directly contradict the emotional growth of the characters that occurred in the preceding scene. It gets confusing. In addition, neither character is particularly likeable.
The film looks very professional, and the supporting performances by Chris Penn (who passed away the evening before this Sundance screening), David Arquette, and the actors, who are the unfortunate victims of Darwin Awards, are quite good and funny. The whole film just feels sloppy, as if no one was paying attention as to how to create an emotional arc for the main characters, or how to best use the device of the Darwin Awards. They just wanted to get a couple laughs out of the premise, and that's exactly what they got out of me. A couple of laughs.