|John Goodman||Congressman Long|
|Steve Carrell||Evan Baxter|
|Directed by||Tom Shadyac|
Evan Almighty belongs to that sorry cinema subgenre, Comedy without the Funny Bits. It’s a flabby morality tale about Evan Baxter (Steve Carell), a freshman congressman from upstate New York who arrives in Washington in his Hummer with his wife Joan (Lauren Graham) and three sons to begin his term. He settles in an ersatz mansion in a subdivision in suburban Virginia, and is taken under the wing of two powerful figures: Congressman Long (John Goodman), a corrupt committee chairman, and God (Morgan Freeman).
Long wants Evan to cosponsor a bill to enable the despoiling of pristine lands for enormous personal profit. God wants him to build an ark. Evan is much more enthusiastic about the former plan than the latter, but God the Father has ways of making an offer that can’t be refused.
Evan was a character in the original of this Almighty franchise, Bruce Almighty, which starred Jim Carrey as a television reporter who takes the Lord’s name in vain, and is invited by the Creator to run things for a bit if he thinks it’s so easy. I did not see that one, but it apparently did enough business to convince writer Steve Oedekerk and director Tom Shadyack that there was more blood to be wrung from this stone.
Carrey passed up the sequel, and in the meantime Carell’s star had risen with the success of Little Miss Sunshine and The 40 Year Old Virgin, and TV’s The Office. So his Evan Baxter character was moved to center stage as a news anchor who gets elected to congress on a platform promising to “Change the World.”
Evan’s campaign slogan apparently attracts God’s notice, although one can’t help but suspect the Almighty hasn’t been paying a lot of attention if this is the first politician he’s seen spouting rhetoric along these lines. God delivers a box of vintage tools to Evan’s front door, and a pallet of gopher wood, and tells him to get busy. Evan resists. He doesn’t believe. Soon animals start turning up, two by two, following Evan wherever he goes. Birds swarm after him, and invade his office. Still he doesn’t believe. God is everywhere, smiling his indulgent smile, and still Evan doesn’t believe. But when he starts growing a beard that can’t be shaved off, and finds himself dressed willy-nilly in Biblical robes, he has no choice but to accept Morgan Freeman as his personal savior.
Washington is in the midst of a drought, so Evan becomes something of a figure of fun in the media when he predicts a flood on a certain date and starts building an ark. His family thinks he’s crazy. His staff thinks he’s crazy. Rep. Long begins to have his doubts about this freshman cosponsor who turns up in the halls of congress looking like an Old Testament prophet. Locals show up at the ark to catcall and jeer and crack labored witticisms. The forces of law order him to cease and desist, or they will come and tear the ark down. The deadline: the same day Evan has named for the impending flood.
There is not a thing I can think of to say that would ruin any surprises, because there is nary a surprise to be found in this lifeless retread of comedy scripting scraped off the floor of some down-market Hollywood branch of Goodwill Industries. Still, there are some things that even in this context could have stood a little more thought. The animals continue to turn up, two by two, of every species on the planet. We know it’s a jungle there inside the Beltway, but you’d think even the cynics might start to suspect something was up when lions and hippos and giraffes start massing over at Evan’s place watching the boat grow, cubit by cubit, into a full-fledged ark.
Carell tries gamely, but there must have been moments when he looked at the pages of his script and saw yet another deposit of bird poop splattering him from above, and wondered if he’d made the right career choice. There’s plenty of physical humor, and the philosophy behind it is of this order: if Carell hits his thumb with a hammer once, it’s funny; if he hits his thumb with a hammer five times, it’s five times as funny. Hair is a thematic leitmotif – in addition to the beard and lank long hair that grows no matter how much he cuts and shaves, there is an extended sequence early in the story in which Evan wages war on his nose hairs.
The supporting cast is composed mostly of a lot of comedians grateful for the work, if not the material. The only one who manages to wrest some laughs is the acerbic Wanda Sykes (TV’s Curb Your Enthusiasm) as Evan’s office manager.
Evan Almighty, with a budget reported at $175 million, is said to be the most expensive comedy ever made. One is hard pressed to see where the money went. It can’t be cheap to build an ark. And there are all those animals. And there’s the flood at the end, which we watch with stunned fascination as it rolls down Pennsylvania Avenue toward the Capitol Building, presumably cutting a very localized swath of death and destruction while leaving the neighboring streets dry.
© Text 2007 Jonathan Richards - Filmfreak.be
© Pictures 2007 Universal Studios