A Reel View: Evan Almighty

A Reel View
Evan Almighty

Finally, a 2007 sequel that's demonstrably better than its predecessor! Alas, considering how bad Bruce Almighty was, that's damning with faint praise. The central problem with Evan Almighty is that the filmmakers pack too much plot into what should be a relatively lightweight comedy. This results in too much exposition and too few laughs. Instead of developing a shell of a plot that allows star Steve Carell to take control with his low-key charisma and natural humor, it saddles him with a narrative so preposterous that not even he can vault the barrier. Evan Almighty is amusing in pieces but, taken as a whole, it offers little, and the morality lesson is galling.
The premise of Bruce Almighty was that a normal human being was granted God's powers while the Almighty (Morgan Freeman) took a vacation. Evan Almighty doesn't try to mine the same load and, considering how poorly the first film did in that department, we can be thankful. This time, God is repeating himself. He commands news anchor-turned-freshman Congressman Evan Baxter (Carell) to emulate Noah and build an ark. (Baxter had a small part in Bruce Almighty.) The animals come two-by-two and all Evan has to do is get his big boat ready to float by mid-day on September 22. Pretty soon, Evan looks like the guy who opens up the Monty Python TV series and has amassed an astounding menagerie. His wife (Lauren Graham) is worried about his sanity and decides that the safest action is to leave him. Meanwhile, Congressman Long (John Goodman) wants him suspended and set up for public ridicule.
Evan Almighty has a sense of humor, although it is neither sophisticated nor evenly distributed. Early ark-building scenes with Carell displaying the actor's capacity for physical comedy are worth a few laughs, and the acerbic Wanda Sykes rarely opens her mouth without saying something amusing. (Considering the PG rating, Sykes' penchant for the rude and crude is effectively curtailed). There's a lot of word play, much of which deals with Genesis 6:14. Consider also the names of Molly Shannon's realtor character (Eve Adams) and God's fast food server (Al Mighty). The best gag of this nature: a movie marquee that reads "Now Showing: The 40 Year-Old Virgin Mary." That's at least worth a smile.
Tom Shadyac effectively muzzles Carell, reducing the role into something any marginally talented comedian could undertake. I have no idea why Shadyac continues to get work. His movies vary from disappointing to unwatchable and Evan Almighty is another in a long line of lazy efforts. His partner in crime is screenwriter Steve Oedekirk, who bears equal responsibility. Both men cut their teeth working with Jim Carrey on the Ace Ventura movies. Carrey has grown since those days, but Shadyac and Oedekirk have not.
While I freely admit that issues of credibility should not be deemed as major flaws in silly comedies, the filmmakers' desire to have this production taken seriously on some level opens it up for such criticism. Evan Almighty takes place near Washington D.C. - so where do the lions, tigers, elephants, and pandas come from? Has there been a mass escape from zoos in the mid-Atlantic region? The fact that Evan, his wife, and three kids are able to build a mammoth, seaworthy ark doesn't bother me, but the animals do. Shadyac and Oedekirk would undoubtedly argue that we're not supposed to think about such things, but expecting a viewer to check his/her brain at the door is a cop-out, especially when we're obviously anticipated to process the message about the importance of faith.
Evan Almighty's climax boasts some of the worst CGI in any summer movie thus far in 2007. It's Titanic meets Jumanji and it looks like it was done on someone's home PC. Have some respect for your audience, Mr. Shadyac. If you're going to include a special effects sequence, make it at least passable. This is a comedy, but people shouldn't be laughing at supposedly serious shots of the boat making its way toward the U.S. Capitol.
While I admit that Evan Almighty isn't as ineptly constructed and poorly realized as its predecessor, this still isn't a wise investment of anyone's entertainment dollar. It's not funny enough, clever enough, or spectacular enough. At best, it's made-for-TV fare masquerading as something more impressive to bilk movie-goers out of hard-earned money. Despite his considerable screen time, Steve Carell's abilities are criminally underused, ending a string of successes that have included The 40 Year-Old Virgin, Little Miss Sunshine, and TV's The Office. Evan Almighty will probably be seen as test of Carell's drawing power. Considering the movie's quality, that's unfortunate. Then again, when it comes to major sequels with familiar pedigrees, maybe quality no longer matters in the box office sweepstakes.

Movie Reviews and Criticism by James Berardinelli, reelviews.net.