Evan Almighty (2007) / Comedy-Fantasy
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for crude humor and mild language
Running time: 90 min.
Cast: Steve Carell, Lauren Graham, Morgan Freeman, John Goodman, Wanda Sykes, John Michael Higgins, Jonah Hill, Johnny Simmons, Graham Baxter, Jimmy Bennett, Molly Shannon, Jon Stewart
Director: Tom Shadyac
Screenplay: Steve Oedekerk
Review published June 27, 2007
Odd to see a character that was just a one-note bit part get his own movie, but Steve Carell (Little Miss Sunshine, Over the Hedge) continues playing the quirky newscaster from Bruce Almighty, oh, for about a couple of minutes. The filmmakers immediately take Evan out of the newsroom and into congress, which also takes him out of Buffalo and into the suburbs of northern Virginia, then gives him a wife, Joan (Graham, The Pacifier), and three young boys. Other than Carell, the only returning player is that of God himself, once again played by Morgan Freeman (The Contract, 10 Items or Less), now asking Evan to build an ark, exactly as Noah had done in the Bible. Trouble is, it's hard to hide an ark so large that it will fit two of every animal on Earth, which draws the eye of the media, and makes his work in Congress all the more tense. Even his appearance begins drastically changing, as he can no longer control the rapid growth of facial hair into a full beard, while he wears an olden robe that truly does make him look like a Biblical caricature. If the rains don't come, it will be the end of his career, and his family's respect, for sure.
You don't need to see Bruce Almighty to watch Evan Almighty, as it basically ignores its predecessor's storyline almost from frame one. Basically, it's just a modern-day story of Noah, done in farcical form, with the protagonist embarrassing himself and his family because he believes he really is commissioned by God to build an ark and save the planet (presumably, by destroying it). It's also, underneath the silliness, a metaphor of the Hurricane Katrina debacle on the part of governmental agencies, although so simplistically executed, this commentary may go by unnoticed by the masses just looking for a few good yuks.
The problems with Evan Almighty are many, but the real liability is the fact that it makes little sense even within its peculiar, offbeat world. For instance, no one seems to believe for even an instant that there is anything to Evan's story about God telling him to build an ark. We're talking about a nation that, in real life, has seen people traveling from all over the country to see the image of the Virgin Mary in a piece of toast. It's also rural Virginia -- not exactly the hotbed of Atheism. OK, so most Christians and Jews would readily disbelieve anyone who claimed to be told by God to do anything as monumental as building an ark, but when you see mass migrations of birds not indigenous to the area following Evan around, there has to be a moment where even an agnostic would pause to think, "What if he's telling the truth?" The appearance of polar bears in the South should a a tip-off that something more than mundane is going on. However, people see these crazy events happening before their eyes and still can't seem to make the connection that something else is at work in Evan's world.
It's also not strong on laughs. Unless you're one of those people that is taken completely by surprise when you see a flock of birds in a film and they end up pooping on someone, usually as the punctuation to a scene to embarrass or get revenge, this is scraping mighty low in the gag department to turn this into a comedy. Then there are gags about Evan sporting a beard, which aren't even a tenth as funny as similar quips against one of the roommates in the infinitely funnier Knocked Up. The remainder of the sight gags involve Evan hurting himself by building the ark, hammering his fingers, rolling onto his ass, and falling off of every height more than a foot off of the ground. Jim Carrey might have made some of this physical humor a bit more tolerable, but then, he'd also be encroaching on territory already explored, in the animal-loving farce, Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, coincidentally, also written by Steve Oedekerk (Barnyard, Kung Pow). Carell is the kind of comedian that is funny mostly because he plays everything so straight sometimes, but is just not the same kind of comedic actor, and they rarely play to his strengths in this film. At least he is given a more interesting role than Lauren Graham, who, as Evan's wife, does little but constantly tell him what he is doing is madness and to stop immediately because it is embarrassing her and the kids.
God is essentially having Evan make good on his promise of saving the world, which his actions, environmentally dubious (he drives a Hummer), keep going against. It's hard to talk about the ending without it being considered a bit of a spoiler, but another nonsensical aspect of the film is that there appears to have been no reason for Evan to do all that he does in the film. Here's a big question I had: why does God have all of the animals of the world get in the ark if he isn't going to flood the entire world? Surely the camels of the Middle East need not make the trip if they are going to be unaffected, right? I suppose the makers of the film had painted themselves into a corner with that one, as anyone who has read the Bible could tell you that God had made a covenant with man that he would never again flood the world (as symbolized by rainbows). At least that still holds true in this film, but barely.
After watching this film, I come to the conclusion that the entire exercise from God's point of view shows how bored he is. Showing up Evan by making him a mockery in front of his family, friends, and comrades gives him a good laugh at his expense, although I suppose it does announce to the world as to his existence if he makes good on his flood promise. Sadly, I expect more out of God, who I would think would have a flair for the dramatic, if he's going to choose a two-bit politician who has his head up his ass to finally show the world he exists once and for all. Certainly, with all of the crime, hunger, war, and death in the world, the saving of a quaint little valley in Virginia doesn't smack of the sort of thing that should anger God enough to call him to immediate action. Unless the message of the film is that God likes beautiful vistas much more than he does humankind. Then again, with characters this obnoxious, who can blame him for trying to wipe them out?
I wasn't a big fan of Bruce Almighty, so I went into Evan Almighty with strong reservations, wondering if they stood a chance to make the premise work without the talents of Jim Carrey. Steve Carell is an undeniably funny guy, but not in that "carry a bad film to success" way that Carrey was able to do earlier in his career, When you realize that Carell got more laughs in the miniscule amount of screen time he had in Bruce Almighty than he does in the 90 minutes he is in front of the camera for this sequel, that's really all you need to know in terms of this film's overall comedic quality. The best thing you can say about it is that it isn't out-and-out toxic, and it does have cute animals, with special effects that are fairly impressive (at a reported $175 million budget, it better look damned good). However, despite His awesome powers, there is one miracle that God isn't quite able to do, at least as evidenced by Evan Almighty, and that's to make such a flimsy, half-realized premise funny.
©2007 Vince Leo