It's a kind of semi-sequel to "Bruce Almighty," the 2003 Jim Carrey box-office blockbuster in which the funniest recurring joke was an insufferable newscaster forced by God to speak in tongues on the air. That small role was played by Steve Carell, an unknown who then went on to star in another hit, "The 40-Year-Old Virgin."
Now, in the same way that God wants Carell's Evan Baxter to build an ark, Universal Pictures wants Carell to build the studio another smash.
"Evan Almighty" is a picture with more amusing asides Evan's local movie house is playing "The 40 Year Old Virgin Mary" than outright laughs. Even the editing betrays a sense of desperation about the material. It's cut so tight that no one ever breathes, they just talk as if setting the pitch of the dialogue at "His Girl Friday" speed would make "Almighty" all righty.
Carell isn't really an actor, per se. Or a comedian. Unlike Carrey or Eddie Murphy or, in this case, Wanda Sykes, who plays the snarling major domo Rita in the congressional office to which Evan has been elected Carell isn't intrinsically funny.
His stardom relies on being a likable square.
After being elected to congress, Evan and his family move into a McMansion near
Demonstrating a surprising lack of omniscience for an all-knowing deity, God (once again played by Morgan Freeman) apparently misunderstands and thinks Evan is speaking biblically, not politically. He begins sending signals directing Evan to Genesis 6:14, which reads, "Make thee an ark of gopher wood." Then he drops a huge pile of lumber in Evan's yard from Go 4 Wood. Later, he makes himself manifest to Evan's wife (Lauren Graham) as a waiter named "Al Mighty," suggesting God could use better writers.
One thing that's never clear is whether Evan has been elected to congress as some kind of Rush-lovin', wilderness-despoiling neo-con. And if not, why is the first piece of legislation he hitches his star to a bill that will open the national parks to development? This is boilerplate conservatism and yet that doesn't seem to be who Evan is.
Another strange disconnect occurs when everyone his loving wife, Rita, and what appears to be every newscaster in America assumes Evan is crazy because he claims God has told him to build an ark, even as vast herds of animals materialize around him in pairs. Even his family abandons him because of it.
The animal scenes have their own visual power and comic energy, but director Tom Shadyac and writer Steve Oedekerk (the original "Bruce Almighty" team) can never seem to find a way to make them pay off. Usually, they just end in a hail of bird droppings.
It's left to Sykes to deliver the movie's only actual funny lines. She's a malevolent Greek chorus of one. When Evan leaves work clean-shaven one day and shows up looking like Serpico the next, Rita inquires, "Why do you sound like Evan Baxter, but look like a Bee Gee? Are you shooting up Rogaine?"
Shadyac directed "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective" and "Patch Adams," which starred Robin Williams, so he's obviously comfortable working with animals. But in "Evan Almighty," he seems determined to deliver a message that's a lot more spiritual than funny.
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