Idiots. Morons. Buffoons. We can’t stand ‘em, but we sure love to watch ‘em work their mojo. I mean c’mon, if we didn’t like watching idiots on parade, reality TV and trashy talk shows wouldn’t be on the air. We simply cannot get enough stupidity from our fellow man. “Dream With the Fishes” and “Cherish” director Finn Taylor capitalizes on our love of morons and makes a nice return to the big screen with his funny film “The Darwin Awards.” While the film has some funky flaws, it’s a terrific satire and is downright hilarious.
For those not aware of the true-life “Darwin Awards,” they’re a pseudo award given to a person who kills themselves in an extremely stupid way. They’re so named because the person who died is so stupid, our gene pool is better off without them in it. Joseph Fiennes plays San Francisco PD detective Michael Burrows, a brilliant homicide detective who, in his spare time, is obsessed with the Darwin Awards. He’s one of those over-the-top TV style detectives (ala “Columbo”) who can piece together a murder through a deep understanding of human nature and a keen eye. Yet he cannot figure out why people eligible for Darwin Awards do the things they do. He thinks there’s a pattern or hidden gene that leads to their stupidity. Oh yeah, he also faints at the sight of blood which leads to him losing a serial killer and soon thereafter, his job.
After his world comes crashing down, Burrows has a revelation. He decides to sell his services to an insurance company and tells them he wants to try and figure out who’s at risk to die in a stupid way. Every year insurance companies lose large amounts of money to people who die in never before thought of ways. Burrows thinks he can pinpoint the people who are at risk for such behavior and the insurance companies can decide whether or not to insure them. They take him up on his offer and team him with intredpid claims investigator Siri Tyler played by the still gorgeous, Winona Ryder.
At this point, “The Darwin Awards” becomes somewhat episodic, but the episodes are funny as hell. Just think of any old story that starts off with “did you hear about that guy in _______ who died trying to __________” and it’s probably in the film. The urban legends (which sadly, are usually true) are brought to life by a cavalcade of cameos including Judah Friedlander, Juliette Lewis, David Arquette, Juliana Marguiles, Max Perlich, Metallica and Chris Penn.
I mentioned flaws, and there are a few. Namely, the film looks really bad. For as many cool special effects as there are, the film looks washed out and sometimes almost blurry. There’s also a few storylines that just get bogged down with so much else going on. Still, Fiennes is hilarious as the anal retentive Burrows. His satiric over the top take on the Burrows character is so subtle, it seems natural. And Winona Ryder is back, people! Put aside your childish snickers about her personal life because here, Ryder shows that sparkling, spunky, comic side of hers that made her popular in “Heathers” and “Reality Bites.” She’s sexy and witty as the yin to Burrow’s yang and I hope this means she’ll get some more roles in the future.
The thing to remember about “The Darwin Awards” is that it’s a satire about stupid Americans. For instance, Wilmer Valderrama plays a film school student who follows Burrows around with a camera, documenting his every move. While at first the student-cam angle seems like a silly visual stunt. In reality it’s a commentary on the portrayal of realism on television and how out of whack that idea is with true reality. There are several other satirical commentaries that kind of get lost in all the madcap antics onscreen, but they’re there. You just have to be willing to play along and look for them. The film reminded me of “The X-Files” meets “Jackass” and it’s a lot of fun but please, don’t try the scenes depicted onscreen at home.