"Creation" is a case study of natural selection in action. It cross-pollinates the life story of Charles Darwin with a Lifetime Channel troubled-family potboiler. The resulting hybrid represents an evolutionary dead end. We may not have many reasons to thank the filmmakers, but at least they have spared us "Meet the Einsteins" and "Marie Curie, the High School Years."

Paul Bettany plays the great man, brow and guts clenched in suffering as he dithers over publishing his groundbreaking observations on evolution. His wife, Jennifer Connelly, is a devout Christian, and his scientific explanation of life's origins represents a challenge to her beliefs. Philosopher of science Thomas Huxley (Toby Jones, jaunty in a top hat and frock coat) exults, "You've killed God, sir!" Bettany winces at the compliment.

In fact, he spends most of the movie cringing. He worries what might happen if religious devotion, a cornerstone of society, collapses under rationalism's assault. Yet he's spurred on by his devotion to reason. The conflict manifests itself in ashen-faced discomfort, loss of appetite and mopeyness. His sole solace is his beloved daughter Annie (Martha West), who is thrilled by her father's tales of nautical exploration and orangutan high jinks. The screenplay's central gimmick, dropping clues and slowly revealing Annie's fate, is dull and conventional.

There are wonderful images in Jon Amiel's film, shots of Bettany scrubbing ink stains off his fingers as a murderer might wash away bloodstains, and shivering under torrents of frigid water as he undergoes a quack-medicine hydrotherapy cure. And Amiel illustrates Darwin's theories so clearly that one needn't be a science scholar to grasp them. But beneath the film's prestigious veneer beats, well, nothing. Bettany's sheepish performance fails to engage, and Connelly, his wife in real life, seems distant and frigid. There is no sense of romance between them. That may be accurate, but it's no fun to watch.

Colin Covert • 612-673-7186