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
sequeled off of the vastly inferior but ridiculously successful
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.