In "Evan Almighty," God turns out to be a celestial one-trick-pony (or should that be a PAIR of one-trick-ponies?).
Apparently, the good Lord does what every cheapjack Hollywood mogul does when he's run out of fresh ideas and inspiration: He remakes one of the old standbys that proved its worth the first time around. And what more dramatic material to bring up to date than the story of Noah and the worldwide flood?
Well, I guess if Billy Bob Thornton can single-handedly build a fully functioning rocket in his own barn, then Steve Carell can certainly construct a full-scale, floatable ark in his backyard - although in fairness to Thornton, it should be pointed out that his character doesn't have God Himself, in the person of a gap-toothed Morgan Freeman, providing him with the resources and know-how necessary to get the job done.
"Evan Almighty" is an in-name-only sequel to the hit comedy "Bruce Almighty" from a few years back. In the lead role, Jim Carrey has been replaced by Steve Carell, who played the manipulative, sarcastic Buffalo weatherman, Evan Baxter, in the previous film. Somehow, Baxter seems to have undergone a complete personality transformation over the course of several years, since now he is a puppy-dog idealist who has just been elected to the U.S. Congress on the ever-so-trite slogan, " Change the World." However, no sooner does he move his family from upstate New York to suburban Virginia than he begins receiving visitations from a strange man claiming to be God and commanding Evan to build an ark on the lot next door. Naturally, his family and co-workers believe the poor man has gone off the deep end, although here the movie betrays its lack of internal consistency since the "miracles" that are occurring to him - being followed all over town by pairs of exotic animals, being unable to shave his newly grown beard and whiskers etc. - are there for all to see, thus making the disbelief of the populace either a monument to their own stupidity or, more likely, an implausible, heavy-handed plot device. And speaking of plot devices, why do all these non-indigenous creatures like giraffes, elephants and lions - let alone all the birds - show up to this location when the flood itself turns out to be a mere local event? Exactly what are they fleeing from (unless there's a zoo with very flimsy cages nearby which we know nothing about)?
And, of course, to smooth things over for modern audiences, who might be made a trifle uncomfortable by all the wanton death and destruction in the original story, the Steve Oedekerk script is quick to point out that THIS flood is no act of wrath on the part of God, and that even the first one was actually a tale about commitment and love. Is there nothing Hollywood can't reduce to sheer dreck and utter pablum?
Directed by Tim Shadyac, "Evan Almighty" is said to be the most expensive comedy ever made. Well, the "expense" we can see, what will all the CGI effects and animal-control needed to make the concept come to life on screen. The "comedy," on the other hand, is a trifle more difficult to discern. Even though the movie gets its requisite dog-poop joke out of the way in the first five minutes, this is a decidedly more tame, family-friendly movie than the often raunchy "Bruce Almighty." That would be fine if the jokes in "Evan Almighty" happened to be funny. Instead of humor, however, we're given a God who smiles smugly and delivers sappy little homilies about belief and faith in terms so simpering and blithe they make your average Sunday School lesson seem edgy and dark in comparison.
Carell does what he can with a poorly written part, but Freeman's arch condescension wears thin very early on. Wanda Sykes, as one of Baxter's Congressional aides, repeats her trick from the wretched "Monster-in-law" of hijacking all the movie's best lines, and one wishes she could at least have been assigned the role of Mrs. Noah as a means of garnering her a bit more time on screen.
Here's hoping that God comes up with new and better material - or at least a better ghost-writer - the next time around.
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