Plot: Detective Michael Burrows (Joseph Fiennes) is a brilliant profiler, he can deduce incredible details about people, even from the quickest assessment. So he serves an important purpose on the San Francisco Police Department, where he helps profile crime scenes and of course, the criminals involved. He is also obsessed with The Darwin Awards, which are given to people who lose their lives thanks to stupid decisions, therefore helping the human gene pool. Another quirk is that despite his crime scene awareness, the mere sight of blood causes him to faint. When this illness causes him to lose a murder suspect, he is cut loose from the force and seeks to help insurance companies follow up on unusual claims. He is partnered with a claims investigator (Winona Ryder) and if he can use his profiling skills in this avenue, he’ll land a permanent job. But as he soon discovers, there is a lot more to those he profiles and to his own lifestyle choices.
Entertainment Value: The Darwin Awards website celebrated people who died in the dumbest ways possible, as it was considered to help improve the gene pool since the stupid people were removed from it. This movie is inspired by the website’s mission and even recreates some of the wilder real life Darwin Award winners, but also veers off that track to pursue a dark, offbeat comedic narrative. The end result is middle of the road however, as the movie is uneven and stumbles often, but it also delivers some good laughs and the recreations are a lot of fun. The scene that centers on a missing truck is an absolute highlight and the movie’s most memorable moment, while the jet powered car is also quite a ride. I liked the concept, but I think the movie stalls a little when it focuses on Fiennes and Ryder, as those scenes just don’t hold interest like the rest of the material. I should clarify, the two have good chemistry and the investigations are well crafted, but it is when the movie explores the more personal side of the characters that it trips up. But The Darwin Awards spends a good amount of time on the recreations and investigations, so there’s more good than bad and for fans of offbeat, slightly dark comedies, it is worth a spin.
The movie has a colorful, fairly deep ensemble, with Joseph Fiennes and Winona Ryder in the lead roles. The two work well together and the banter during investigation scenes is fun, but when the material turns more serious or teases romantic elements, the leads don’t fare as well. I don’t think the actors are to blame, as both are terrific performers, but the script just lets them down. Ryder is fun to watch as the charismatic skeptic, while Fiennes’ work as the obsessed eccentric is solid, though it does seem a little forced in some sequences. Overall I think the leads are well played, I just wish the material was stronger outside of the investigation scenes. David Arquette has a prominent role as the man who straps a jet engine to his car and while he isn’t given much to do, he makes the most of an outlandish character. Judah Friedlander and Lukas Haas also have fun roles as rock fans who get into a series of ridiculous mishaps, while Metallica and the Mythbusters also make appearances. The cast of The Darwin Awards also includes Ty Burrell, Kevin Dunn, Julianna Margulies, Tim Blake Nelson, Juliette Lewis, Josh Charles, Chris Penn, and Alessando Nivola.