Movie Review: Evan Almighty
"Evan Almighty" has a very funny man at its center, and a climactic flood bombastic enough to fit into "The Day After Tomorrow" or any one of DeMille's biblical forays. But the divine guidance afforded the title character does not extend to script doctoring.
You know what "Evan Almighty" needs? Jokes. That's what it doesn't have. Jokes are valuable in a comedy. Without them a comedy is reduced to its premise and its aura, and the aura here is that of sincere Judeo-Christian values delivered "Veggie Tales" style, without the "Veggie Tales" wit.
Church groups, to which the pitch is on from Universal Pictures, will have few problems with "Evan Almighty": It's the most identifiably biblical mainstream picture since the Mel Gibson project with all the bleeding and the hacking. It may get by with a lot of non-denominational moviegoers, too, especially if "Knocked Up" worked them into an offended lather and they need something to take the edge off. But it never develops its setup, and poor Steve Carell works like the devil trying to make lemonade out of lemons. If you've seen the trailer you've seen the film; there are no additional story points or laughs to be had.
What most people remember about the 2003 comedy "Bruce Almighty" is Carell, then a mere supporting player, spouting gibberish on-air during a Buffalo newscast, while Jim Carrey busted a gut just off-camera. The bit worked despite the cutaway shots to Carrey, which seemed insecure and sort of galling, as if we'd forget all about the star if someone else got something going for a few seconds.
Carrey's role, that of an egocentric martyr who learns from the Lord Himself the error of his petty ways, struck a chord with audiences. They responded also to Morgan Freeman's Zenlike authority in the role of the Supreme Being. Freeman's back in "Evan Almighty," with Carell taking the lead. This time, though, there's no one of Carell's comic abilities on board to steal the show from Carell.
Bearing little resemblance to the competitive weasel in "Bruce Almighty," Evan Baxter is now a generic overworked family man, having left Buffalo and the world of television for politics. The freshman New York congressman, his wife and their three boys relocate to a Virginia suburb of McMansions outside Washington. Since he drives a Hummer, the audience knows from the get-go that Evan is a hypocrite who may have campaigned on a platform to "change the world," but clearly needs a little nudge from the man upstairs.
The bulk of "Evan Almighty" concerns how the buttoned-down congressman meets God, gets the ark assignment, becomes an animal magnet, grows his hair out and transforms into a modern-day Noah. The flood is coming and time is short and the media, like Evan's political colleagues, think he has lost his gourd. Screenwriter Steve Oedekerk drags in bits of old Capra films for plot's sake, with John Goodman taking the Edward Arnold role of the oily politico using Evan for his own purposes. None of these strands weave together with any comic flair. After the weird streaks of aggression and narcissism that periodically brought "Bruce Almighty" to life (though Carrey was pretty exhausting in it), the placid one-jokiness of "Evan Almighty" is like a counter-argument to God's entreaty to Evan that hard work is good for the soul.
Carell's pal and "Daily Show" colleague Jon Stewart has a cameo as himself, one of a chorus of godless media star non-believers who do not see God's larger plan for Evan. Yes, well. At least "The Daily Show" is funny.
Directed by Tom Shadyac; screenplay by Steve Oedekerk, based on Steven Koren and Mark O'Keefe's characters; photographed by Ian Baker; edited by Scott Hill; music by John Debney; production design by Linda DeScenna; produced by Shadyac, Gary Barber, Roger Birnbaum, Neal H. Moritz and Michael Bostick. A Universal Pictures release. Running time: 1:36. MPAA rating: PG (mild rude humor and some peril).
Evan Baxter - Steve Carell
God - Morgan Freeman
Congressman Long - John Goodman
Joan Baxter - Lauren Graham