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Evan Almighty

Steve Carell Keeps a Sinking Boat Afloat

Four years ago, Bruce Almighty, a “high concept” comedy starring Jim Carrey as a temporary stand-in for the omnipotent creator, grossed more than $240 million dollars stateside. With numbers like that, a sequel was inevitable, but with a seemingly exhausted premise, the producers faced a quandary: where to go next? Ultimately, they decided to take Steve Carell’s character from Bruce Almighty, Evan Baxter, and turn him into the lead character of the sequel titled, appropriately enough, Evan Almighty.

Reportedly the most expensive comedy of all time, this is a fairly straightforward retelling of Noah’s story from the Old Testament. Directed by Tom Shadyac (Liar Liar, The Nutty Professor, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective), Evan Almighty is more family-oriented than its predecessor, but also richer thematically. It’s also nowhere near as amusing or humorous as its predecessor.

Newly elected to Congress, Evan Baxter (Steve Carell), a former news anchor, his wife, Joan (Lauren Graham), and his three sons, Dylan (Johnny Simmons), Jordan (Graham Phillips), and Ryan (Jimmy Bennett), are relocating to a brand-new McMansion in the Washington, D.C. suburbs. Evan is ready to put his "Change the World" campaign slogan into action with the help of his chief of staff, Marty (John Michael Higgins), his executive assistant, Rita (Wanda Sykes), and an overeager aide with a Google-like memory, Eugene (Jonah Hill). Evan's new, spacious office comes courtesy of the powerful chairman of a natural resources committee, Congressman Long (John Goodman). Long hopes to get Baxter to co-sponsor a new land use bill that will open national parks to commercial development. Eager to fit in, Baxter tentatively agrees.

The next morning, Evan spots a flatbed truck dropping off stacks of wood from an upstairs window. A stranger dressed in white (Morgan Freeman), appears and attempts to convince Evan that he's the one and only God. Moreover, God has a task for Evan: build an ark and populate it with male-female pairs of every animal like the biblical Noah. Evan's initial disbelief turns into disgruntled acceptance when animals begin following him everywhere and he grows a full beard and long hair overnight. Meanwhile, more wood arrives, God appears to encourage Evan to get to work building the ark, and the date for the congressional committee to vote on the land use bill is fast approaching.

Thematically, Evan Almighty mixes left-leaning political satire and pro-environmentalism with a conservative faith-based, family-oriented message. While occasionally cloying and sentimental (what family-oriented film isn’t?), the movie manages to keep the sentimentality in check, thanks mostly to Steve Carell’s charms as an actor and a surprisingly smart script by Steve Oedekerk that plays the biblical story of Noah and the Ark straight while emphasizing God’s benevolence over his wrath. A mid-film exchange between God and Evan about faith neatly sums up Evan Almighty’s message without getting ham-fisted.

However, fans of Bruce Almighty’s adult-oriented humor will be disappointed by its absence here. Where Evan Almighty stumbles, however, is where, given the talent involved in front of and behind the camera, it should be strongest -- its humor. Verbal humor and slapstick montages only go so far and here the slapstick gets quickly repetitive. Presumably, the top-down decision to go with a PG rating, perfect for the all-important family demographic, influenced where Oedekerk could go with the script and what he could say, as evidenced by the absence of swear words. Dodgy special effects, especially during the big, end-film set piece, don’t help either. Luckily, Steve Carell, Morgan Freeman, and a solid supporting cast keep Evan Almighty grounded for its ninety-four-minute running time.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars