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"Evolution" isn't one of the summer's many remakes and sequels, but it's the next best thing - a parody of other movies, remakes, and sequels. It's also a good summer confection because it plugs into two of the season's favorite genres, comedy and fantasy.

David Duchovny plays a biology professor at a Southwestern community college. This doesn't appear to be a great seat of learning, since its students seem less interested in reading and studying than flirting with teachers and arguing about their grades. (See an interview with the writer, page 19.)

Earth-shaking discoveries can fall into the laps of small-time scholars, though. Aliens have landed (crash-landed, actually) in the nearby desert, and their presence is discovered by none other than our hero and his sidekick, a part-time biology prof who doesn't seem much smarter than his students. They're charmed by the cute little critters, who are as microscopic in size as they are exotic.

The aliens start to outgrow the microscope they're under, though, and soon the probing professors realize they're dealing with a very alien breed, big enough to take over the Earth, in fact - which may be just what they're after.

"Evolution" comes from director Ivan Reitman, who cooked up the legendary "Ghostbusters" back in the '80s. (He also cooked up its unlegendary sequel, but let's not go there.) The new picture isn't nearly so inspired, and its reliance on the same basic formulas - regular folks vs. monsters, heroic trio with white guy/black guy/dumb guy, and so on - signals that Reitman is after a quick hit rather than a lasting treasure this time around.

Reitman can spin a clever cinematic joke when he wants to, though, and "Evolution" has its pleasures. Duchovny gets to crack wise at the expense of his "X-Files" fame (it's his character who says the government never knows anything) and to flirt with a pretty FBI agent (Julianne Moore) more exuberantly than Gillian Anderson lets him do on the TV show. Moore lends a touch of class to the klutzy-cop cliches, and Orlando Jones has terrific comic timing as the second-banana.

Best of all is the movie's affection for the bygone era when monster movies as silly as this were actually taken seriously by moviegoers. "Evolution" is an affectionate semi-clone of golden oldies like "Them!" and "Tarantula," with their giant ants and spiders, and of more recent schockeroos like the "Alien" pictures, which weave fantastic tapestries around our primal fear that there's something important we didn't learn in biology class.

That fear energizes the climax of "Evolution," which combines a funny gag about dandruff shampoo with a walloping dose of the gross-out humor that many warm-weather blockbusters thrive on. This horror-comedy probably isn't hefty enough to be a major hit, but it touches enough bases to make it a reasonably entertaining time-passer. And it'll be a long time before you think of your shampoo in quite the same way.

Rated PG-13; contains comic violence and vulgarity.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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