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Evan Almighty

All those pining for a heart-felt family comedy with Christian values - you know who you are - don't read past this paragraph. You guys need to go out and see Evan Almighty, and if it doesn't do well, then it's your fault that Hollywood just churns out more sex and violence. Yes, this Steve Carell vehicle is the movie you've been waiting for, so go.

For the rest of us, let's be honest: Evan Almighty has a lot of problems. It's not a shining example of brilliant filmmaking. However, it is a heart-felt family comedy, and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Heaven help us, but Evan Almighty works. It shouldn't. But it does.

Loosely sequeled off of the vastly inferior but ridiculously successful Bruce Almighty, all this movie has in common are three actors - Morgan Freeman, Carell and for a tiny moment, Catherine Bell. It's up to you to make the connection. No character here ever references the events of the earlier movie, so we could just pretend it never happened.

What does happen is that news anchor Evan Baxter (Carell) becomes a Congressman and moves from Buffalo to Virginia. Despite a campaign promise to "change the world," Evan starts out as a clueless freshman representative, driving a new Hummer and using Brazilian cherry wood for his kitchen cabinets.

Of course he's fallen under the spell of Congressman Long (John Goodman in the John Goodman role), sponsoring a bill that just smells of anti-environmentalism. The more he gets wrapped up in the workings of Congress, the more he also ignores his family. Naturally his wife Joan (Lauren Graham) has hopes for the family growing closer together, and Evan takes her advice to pray for a little help in changing the world.

Ask and ye shall receive.

Suddenly references to Genesis 6:14 flood Evan's life, and soon enough animals begin flocking to him. It's only a matter of time before the Almighty Himself (Freeman) shows up to show Evan his love. The fledgling representative must now become a representative of Heaven, a modern prophet who will be laughed at (by Carell's old Daily Show castmates), scorned and by many, reviled. In short, just what you might expect if someone claimed to be talking to God.

Much of the story plays the way you would expect, especially from a script by Steve Oedekirk. The guy has a knack for setting up jokes, but he has trouble tying them together in a coherent plot. Because modern storytelling requires it, Joan leaves Evan, accusing him of ignoring the kids while he builds his ark. Nobody seems to have noticed that the kids are actually enjoying their crazy dad for the first time in a long while, until the inevitable reunion where they say as much and whole sequences get repeated.

Still, it's redeemed by a lot of factors. Director Tom Shadyac uses a lighter hand than usual, trusting Carell to hit the right notes. In turn, Carell hits them, bouncing from a variation on his Michael Scott from The Office (a character constantly surprising in his notes of vulnerability) to manic physical comedy then to the meek acceptance of a prophet. The amazing thing about the performance is that it's still believably one character going through these changes. Amidst a lot of CGI, Carell comes across with sincerity, something that often eluded Jim Carrey when the Almighty gave him control of reality.

As for the Almighty, He was the best thing in the previous film and he still makes a mark here. Freeman looks like he relishes the role, and exudes such warmth and (occasionally tough) love that he knocks George Burns down a peg.

Shadyac also peppers the film with strong comic support - another thing that makes Carell a comic for the ages. He shares. Though Wanda Sykes pretty much does the same thing in every movie, serving largely to cap off her scenes with an outraged one-liner, she's still funny. Clearly about to rule the summer, Jonah Hill from Knocked Up pops up here in a cool role before finishing up in August with Superbad. And of course, Jon Stewart and Ed Helms put in some time to lend verisimilitude to the whole thing. A modern-day prophet couldn't be real news until The Daily Show mocked it.

So it has a bit of cynicism, but the message of the film is that the cynics are wrong. Unlike its predecessor, Evan Almighty isn't afraid of its faith. The title, too, is a bit of a misnomer, as Evan never takes power of the Almighty as Bruce did. Like the prophets of old, his strength comes from admitting that he is just a servant.

When the lights come up, you might find yourself tremendously pleased, even though you know it wasn't the greatest story ever told. Some movies are like that, working in spite of themselves. The Lord moves in mysterious ways, and as long as He smiles like Morgan Freeman, I can sleep at night.


Derek McCaw

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