“The Darwin Awards”

By Jae-Ha Kim
Amazon.com
June 17, 2007

Loosely based on the book series of the same name, The Darwin Awards is a wry indie film that deals with the premise that some people will live long and prosperous lives, while the weaker will weed themselves out by committing unbelievably stupid acts (such as smashing into a high-rise window to prove it’s shatterproof, or using dynamite as a means to make a small hole for ice fishing).

The film stars Joseph Fiennes as Michael, a brilliant profiler for the San Francisco police department who has an unusual quirk: When he sees blood, he faints. This trait proves to be his undoing when he catches a serial killer who happens to have a bloody nose. As the newspaper headline screams the following day, “Officer Faints; Killer Runs Free.”

Kicked off the police force, Michael redefines himself as a risk management assessor for an insurance company.

Paired with fellow investigator Siri (Winona Ryder), the two traipse across the country to determine whether their company should pay out premiums to the victims of unnecessarily idiotic acts, like the vacationing British couple whose understanding of a RV’s “cruise control” has little to do with reality; or the two stoned Metallica fans literally dying to see the band in concert.

Injecting just enough hinky characteristics into his role to make Michael truly weird, Fiennes is excellent in his role.

And while Ryder is as lovely as ever, she is still too coltish to be completely believable as a foul-mouthed, seen-it-all, done-it-all ballbuster.

Featuring appearances by David Arquette, Lukas Haas, Metallica, beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage (both from the Discovery Channel’s MythBusters), and Chris Penn in his last role before his 2006 death, The Darwin Awards has its share of disjointed moments.

And it’s not the scratch-your-head antics that are unbelievable so much as some of the minor plot points, such as a film grad student (Wilmer Valderrama) having complete access to film Michael and his investigations (and the money to fly off wherever Michael and Siri do).

Still, the film offers fine performances (especially by Arquette as a small-town man trying to impress his wife, played by Juliette Lewis) and an unusual premise.

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