The Darwin Awards

  • 2007-08-01
  • By Tim Osher
In "The Darwin Awards," San Francisco homicide detective Michael Burrows (Joseph Fiennes) has an uncanny and underappreciated knack for pinpointing criminal motives. But he's not your typical cop as he's obsessive-compulsive and faints at the site of blood. Bungling the arrest of the North Beach Killer, he finds himself thrown off the police force and sells his sleuth skills to an insurance agency as an investigator for suspicious claims. With his cynical partner Siri (Winona Ryder), the two travel the country looking into these bizarre claims. All the while, they are followed by the camera of an annoying young documentary filmmaker who is doing his thesis film project on Michael. 

The real-life Darwin Awards supposedly honor people who "improve the human species by accidentally removing themselves from it." They are given posthumously to individuals whose stupidity results in the most unnecessary of deaths. In the movie, the cases which our duo investigate include an office worker whose death results from getting his hand caught in a vending machine, a gas station attendant who meets his maker by attaching a rocket booster to the back of his car, a yokel who loses his truck and his buddy by unwisely combining ice fishing with dynamite, and a couple who crash their RV into a dentist's office while mistaking the cruise control feature in a car for the autopilot feature on a plane. As our protagonists delve into each case, we flashback to what really happened. Siri, meanwhile, attempts to get Michael to loosen up, and a little romance ensues.

"The Darwin Awards" tries to be a quirky comedy with its oddball American characters in absurd situations. But it misses the mark by a mile. The film is humorless, flat and condescending to many of its eccentric characters. Fiennes is miscast and struggles through what could have been a decent role for a better comic actor. And there's little chemistry between the leads. This episodic film meanders aimlessly from flashback to flashback. I wasn't sure where the film was going nor was I much interested. The documentary film within the film never quite works, and the film's literary references of and cameo by beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti come off as overly pretentious. Ironically, "The Darwin Awards" contributes little to the evolution of cinema.


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