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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Devolved (Blu-ray)
Devolved (Blu-ray)
Severin // Unrated // March 22, 2011 // Region A
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted March 20, 2011 | E-mail the Author
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Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale -- a tale of a fateful trip that started from this tropic port, aboard a tiny ship. The mate was a mighty...wait, I'm too lazy to riff on the Gilligan's Island
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theme. The setup for Devolved is kinda similar, though. Instead of a three-hour tour, it's a bunch of high school seniors on a whale-watching trip off the coast of California. Instead of the weather getting rough, a prickish jock tosses a lighter in the corner after taking too many bong hits and the whole boat goes ka-boom. The crew's either still lost at sea or...um, scattered across the Pacific in bloody, fist-sized chunks. Just about all the kids survive, though, washing up on the shore of some remote island. The unpopular kids are all piled together on one raft, and they immediately start hatching schemes about signal fires and surviving in the wild until rescue arrives. The cheerleaders and football hero types take a little longer to storm the beach, but they're not so much in a hurry to get off. Wait, I mean, the popular kids definitely want to get off...they just wanna get off on the island. Plenty of booze, plenty of drugs, plenty of barely-legal tail, plenty of dweebs to torment: it's kind of like high school, only it doesn't hafta end after four years. Hell, it's more like an eternal Spring Break. Of course, the Populars can't really keep the party going if they get rescued, so they've gotta put the kibosh on all the Unpopulars' best-laid plans, and a whole Lord of the Flies deal quickly breaks out.

The cover art and "unrated!" banner might make Devolved look like a Cinemax titty comedy or something, but that's really not it at all. A couple of boobs do jiggle across the screen, sure, but freshman writer/director John Cregan aims higher than the whole Tomcats crowd. Its sense of humor skews a lot more clever than that, driven by witty dialogue and characterization, not cheap gross-out gags, slapstick, mugging to the camera, or oversized, obnoxiously over-the-top setpieces. It doesn't lean on lazy pop culture references either, and the nods Devolved does throw out -- a pitch-perfect recreation of a John Hughes flick and a Mexican refried
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T.Rex knockoff in a luchador mask, f'r instance -- are actually really inspired. It's mentioned over and over in the extras how much improvisation there was on the set, but all the dialogue blends together really well. Cregan writes with a really natural rhythm, and his most clever lines are delivered so effortlessly that they don't have that forced, overwritten quality to 'em that drag down lesser screenwriters. (For a good example of "forced and overwritten", read this review.)

Cregan isn't working with much of a budget, but shooting on-location on an actual beach and in a lush forest make Devolved look like a bigger a movie than it actually is, and he's assembled a pretty impressive cast for his first flick. There are over a dozen actors in Devolved playing these shipwrecked seniors, and even though a lot of 'em are pretty inexperienced, that definitely doesn't come across in their delivery. One of the standouts is Lindsey Shaw, whose Peggy is a super-cute cheerleader that's done her time with the popular crowd and is kinda ready to move on with her life. The Lead Outsider Kid isn't the easiest role to pull off, and if it's botched, it can torpedo the entire movie. Really, just ask Paul Rust. Gary Entin does a terrific job as Flynn, though, and he pulls off the romance with Lindsey Shaw even though they're both playing mostly straight roles. Straight Man plus Straight Woman can seem really out of place in a comedy that otherwise
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leans kinda zany, but Shaw and Entin make it work perfectly. Robert Adamson scores just about all of the best lines as The Rog, a QB stereotype who refers to himself in the third person and doesn't want to lose a chick like Peggy to anyone, let alone a poet or whatever like Flynn.

Devolved screams ahead really quickly, not letting itself get bogged down by reams of exposition or an excruciatingly long setup. I mean, we don't see any of the kids until they wash up on the beach. The dynamic changes throughout the film, with each faction seizing control at one time or another, and there's more than a little bit of cross-pollination between 'em. Those kind of shifts help keep the pace breezing along, and especially with so many of the jocks getting more and more coked out of their minds as the movie goes along, the energy never really has much of a chance to lag. Devolved definitely sides with the Unpopulars, but the division isn't as clean cut as Good Guys versus Bad Guys. Both sides screw up a lot, they have more in common than they'd probably want to let on, and there are glimmers of sympathy for even the least likeable jocks. Cregan and his cast pull it off without coming across like some kind of weepy after-school special too. Devolved absolutely gets a lot right. The music scattered throughout the movie is pretty incredible. I really like the cast and not just because I'm a sucker for girls this ridiculously cute. Something is always happening, and I really like its general approach to comedy. Well, in theory, I guess. There are a couple of lines that really stand out, although I guess you have to hear "in The Rog's world, all writers are named John Grisham" or "does Nickelback play G?" in context for that to mean anything. It's just that as I watched Devolved, I'd stop and think "oh, that's pretty clever" every once in a while, but I never actually laughed. To be fair, I didn't roll my eyes or groan either, and that's gotta count for something, but as many things as I think Devolved does well, it's just...not funny enough. There's kind of a lot about Devolved that I admire and respect, but at the end of the day, I really just wanna laugh, and I didn't. If even just a few more of the gags had connected a little better with me, I'd probably have given this Blu-ray disc a much more enthused recommendation. As it is, though...? My vote's to Rent It. I do wanna see what John Cregan does next, though, and hopefully he'll have as much luck casting his second movie as he did with Devolved.

Shot with the mighty RED camera, Devolved generally looks pretty great on Blu-ray. Since it's an all-digital shoot, obviously there aren't any flecks of dust or nicks in the source to get in the way, and the image is consistently crisp and detailed throughout. For a sunny flick set on a tropical island and all, I'll admit to being kind of surprised by how muted the colors are. It also definitely has that RED look with a slight tinge of softness and flattish contrast. There's one scene that was lit entirely by campfire, and it's flatter and noisier than the rest of the movie, but that sort of thing doesn't really creep in anywhere else. I couldn't spot any hiccups in the authoring either. Devolved is a solid looking release of a very low-budget comedy, although I really don't get the point in draining all the color out of it.

The flipside of the case lists an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and a handful of establishing shots do fill the frame. Generally, though, Devolved is letterboxed to the unusual aspect ratio of 2.00:1. Maybe they called in a couple of favors and got Vittorio Storaro to approve the transfer or something. Also, that's the dumbest and most pointlessly obscure joke I've probably ever made, and I feel like I oughtta apologize right now. Oh! More technical stuff. Devolved and its extras are spread across a dual-layer Blu-ray disc, and the video has been encoded with AVC.

The technical specs are pretty cinematic -- 24-bit, six-channel DTS-HD Master Audio and all -- but the soundtrack itself...? Not so much. The audio is kinda timid and meek overall. The score wakes up the subwoofer every once in a while, but otherwise, bass response is really light. Lapping waves and stuff lightly splash into the surrounds, and there are a few memorable effects like The Rog skulking around the treetops, although the mix isn't really sure what to do with the surround channels outside of that. I don't feel like I can distinctly pick out each and every element in the mix the way I often can on Blu-ray, and there's nothing about the clarity or fidelity that'd immediately set it apart from a standard issue DVD. Perfectly listenable but completely unremarkable.

Also included is a Dolby Digital stereo track. No subs. No dubs.

  • Audio Commentary: Writer/director John Cregan pops up in both of Devolved's commentary tracks. He mostly lurks in the background on the cast commentary, which is anchored around Gary Entin, Lindsey Shaw, and Robert Adamson, only stepping up to the mic when responding to something one of the actors says. The cast handles most of the heavy lifting on this one, and if anything, they're almost too chatty, talking
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    over each other and making the whole thing a little chaotic. The conversation swirls around relationship chatter, the sheer volume of improv, how yucky bananas are, and how awesome everyone and everything in any way associated with Devolved is. It's a pretty fun track, pointing out the influence of everything from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia to Duck Soup, poking fun at Lindsey Shaw's wee little boyfriend, and staring in awe at her bikini-clad chest as it jiggles on-camera. I didn't really find myself jotting down all that many highlights, so if you're keeping your fingers crossed for sterling insight or whatever, this one's probably not the one you want.

    John Cregan goes it alone on the second track, and this is definitely more the Indie Comedy Film School commentary of the two. He spends a fair amount of time focusing on the construction of the movie, some of which didn't take shape until after principal photography had wrapped. Cregan also mentions how his collaborative "all in this together" directorial style helped Devolved leap over a bunch of the hurdles that cropped up throughout the shoot and how embracing a production's limitations beforehand makes it easier to direct what resources you have most effectively. Among Cregan's other comments that really stand out are scoring a free helicopter shot courtesy of Transformers 2 from further up the beach, Bryan Singer's inadvertently intimidating visit to the set, explaining that his Brokeback Mountain joke wasn't so played out when he wrote it, and taking inspiration from everything from M.A.S.H. to Saving Private Ryan to old Discovery Channel documentaries.

  • Devolved: Behind the Scenes (19 min.; HD): Devolved's making-of featurette is pretty solid, kicking off with John Cregan explaining how the story came together from knowing he wouldn't have much money to hammer out his first movie. Sprinkled in with a heaping of behind-the-scenes footage are lots of casting notes, why Cregan opted to shovel eighteen kids into the movie, filming on location and outdoors for pretty much every last second of the shoot, how energetic a production this was, and pointing out a few scenes that were dreamed up on the set.

  • Deleted Scenes (12 min.; HD): There are eleven deleted and extended snippets in this reel, including the original opening for Devolved. There's also a pretty great gag with an emergency beacon that the Unpopulars find, a little more ranting by The Rog that actually makes his party-on-Garth stance not seem so far out there, some extended riffing with Peggy about tribal makeup and stuff, and a few final jokes with the TV news coverage.

  • Audition Footage (9 min.; SD): Lots of actors. Lots of different scenes. Lots of hearing "you brought
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    a guitar on a whale-watching trip?" over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. Pretty much everyone except Lindsey Shaw, Chris Kattan, and Robert Adamson pop up in here somewhere.

  • Shorts (31 min.; SD): Devolved is John Cregan's first feature-length flick, sure, but it's not even a little bit close to his first time behind the camera. This Blu-ray disc dishes out a couple of his shorts too. First to bat is the 17 minute infomercial spoof "Live Tomorrow Today!", which revolves around a dweeby 13 year old who wants to honor his dead mom's memory by getting his very own pony. The kid's pop, meanwhile, is itching to get hitched again, and he wants his prepubescent son to be the best man, throw him a bachelor party, and do the whole wedding reception toast deal. It's a pretty awesome riff on self-help infomercials, and anything that gives Isaac from Love Boat a little extra work is A-OK with me. Short film numero two-oh is "Restive Planet", which stars Alex Rocco -- Moe Greene! -- as a Geritol-guzzling bully at a retirement home. He torments pretty much everyone who waltzes into Restive Planet, and he really heaps it on this nerdy teenager who just dragged in his Uncle Max. The kid starts to feel for the first time in his life like he really fits in, but Johnny isn't ready to chuck that Big Man on Campus trophy in the attic just yet. The shorts have some pretty great introductory text explaining how they came about, and they're both really sharply written and directed.

  • Music Videos (8 min.; mostly HD): A few music videos have also been piled on here, and all three of 'em feature original footage, not just recycling snippets from the movie the way a lot of these things usually do. There's the Microkorg-y "Center of the World" by Nik Freitas, "Del Coche Que Tango" by the luchadoriatastic T. Rey, and the wistful organ-and-acoustic guitar combo of "Searched for Me". The first two are in high-def; "Searched for Me" is encoded in HD but is so low-res and plagued by so many compression artifacts that it looks like I'm watching it on YouTube or something.

  • Trailer (2 min.; HD): Last up is a high-def theatrical trailer. There are also plugs for Birdemic, BMX Bandits, and The Perils of Gwendoline in the Land of the Yik-Yak...and that last one looks amaaaaazing.

The Final Word
Devolved definitely has a few checkmarks under the "Win!" column: a really likeable cast, lotsa pretty girls, and a smarter sense of humor than just about every other Spring Break-ish teen comedy floating around out there. I really do respect the fact that its sense of humor is more dialogue-'n-character-centric rather than going for double-digit-IQ easy laughs, but Devolved still really isn't that funny. It's one of those movies I guess I'd say I don't mind. Not great. Not terrible. Didn't laugh. Didn't groan. It's just kinda...there. I definitely wouldn't recommend diving into Devolved sight-unseen. Rent It first.
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