Dir/scr. Finn Taylor. US. 2006. 93 min.

The Darwin Awards is a hit-and-miss comedy with far too few hits and way too manymisses. Indeed, the title is perilously close to reflexive, given the likelyfate of this misbegotten hybrid. A Premiere presentation at the Sundance FilmFestival, it will initially rely on the morbid curiosity of film-goers familiarwith the titular awards. A documentary filmmaking conceit an unfortunatepredilection among Sundance features this year only brings attention to the absenceof plot. Foreign prospects will hinge on name recognition of featured playersWinona Ryder and Joseph Fiennes.

The opening sequence introduces the viewerto the questionably humourous real-life Darwin Awards, the mock tribute tomankind's innate stupidity, presented annually (and generally posthumously) tothose among us who have died or been severely injured in an entirelypreventable or pointlessly reckless manner thereby, it is argued, furtheringthe cause of mankind by winnowing out another moronic protein molecule from thehuman gene pool. For example, the man who throws himself against the window inhis high-rise office to demonstrate the window's strength and plummets throughit to infamy.

Michael Burrows (Fiennes) is fascinated bythe Darwin Awards. As a crime-scene profiler with the San Francisco police, heis a student of human nature. He has an uncanny ability to match evil-doing toevil-doers he's so good at what he does, a documentary filmmaker is tailinghim as he goes about cracking a case involving a serial killer. But Burrows hasa critical failing: he faints cold at the sight of blood. So when theserial-killer suspect is literally in his clutches and blood is drawn, Burrowsfaints, the suspect makes his escape, and the documentary filmmaker lets thecamera roll. So far, so stretched.

Burrows loses his job but the filmmakerinsists on continuing with his project; for no discernible reason Burrowsaccepts the intrusion. The tenuousness of this POV conceit snaps but directorTaylor is stuck with it, leaving audiences to stare intermittently through thedigital range-finder and wonder if this is a film about the Darwin Awards orabout a really stupid detective named Burrows.

Burrows convinces an insurance companypresident by guessing the colour of the president's underwear that he cansave his firm money by identifying potential Darwin winners before they canmake a claim. He is sent into the field to prove his theory and assigned towork with a claim's adjuster, Siri Tyler (Ryder), one of the company's best.

Most viewers will accept a centralcharacter who is foul-mouthed from dawn until dusk but typically there is anoff-setting quality a dark secret, a soft heart, a sense of humour butRyder's Siri is all mouth. Her first line: "Who the fuck is this'" sets thelow-bar for her character and she never rises above the sullen or smirking.Fiennes and Ryder are meant to be opposites attracting but her character is sorude and his so passive that their union while inevitable in the context of thestory is unconvincing.

The movie is not without its moments -David Arquette has a humourous cameo as a speed-obsessed Darwin contender whobolts a jet engine onto his clapped-out sedan - but there's not enoughconnective material between the Burrows-Siri story and the Darwin theme, whichis played out as almost stand-alone anecdotes that stop the film rather thanfurther it. Matters get truly out of hand in the final third, where the serialkiller plot-line somehow returns only to be interrupted by an extended detourinto a gross-out death at a Metallica concert. Cue the scenes of the bandplaying live. It's a cheap play for audience approval, a final futile act ofdesperation worthy of a Darwin Award.

One wonders why Finn didn't just make adocumentary.

Production companies: Tavistock Films,WowFilms, Blumhouse Productions

International sales: Icon EntertainmentInternational

Executive producers: Charles Hsiao, LaurieMiller, Steven Siebert

Producers: Jane Sindell, Johnny Wow, JasonBlum

Cinematography: Hiro Narita

Production design: Peter Jamison

Editor: Rick LeCompte

Music: David Kitay

Main cast: Joseph Fiennes, Winona Ryder