"Evan Almighty" has disaster written all over it. More a spin-off rather than a sequel to 2003's "Bruce Almighty
," the film makes no mention of the character played by Jim Carrey in the original, instead promoting a supporting player, smarmy rival newscaster Evan Baxter (Steve Carell), to lead position. The earlier Evan and the new Evan share only one similaritythey look alikeand so, really, the only tried-and-true connection between the two pictures is the appearance of God in the comforting form of a wise and wisecracking Morgan Freeman (2005's "An Unfinished Life
"). By all accounts, "Evan Almighty" shouldn't work, its existence based upon the fact that Steve Carell is a hot commodity after the successes of 2005's "The 40-Year-Old Virgin
" and TV's "The Office," but it kind of does. Some of the time. Juvenile on occasion and relying a bit too much on poop jokesthe downgrade from PG-13 for "Bruce
" to PG for "Evan" reveals that returning director Tom Shadyac and screenwriter Steve Oedekerk are squarely aiming their sights on the family marketthis superior second installment nonetheless gets points for being less preachy, less pretentious, and a tad bit sweeter.
Evan Baxter bids adieu to his job as a news anchor in Buffalo and moves to suburban Virginia with wife Joan (Lauren Graham) and three sons Dylan (Johnny Simmons), Jordan (Graham Phillips) and Ryan (Jimmy Bennett). Evan barely has time to get acquainted with his demanding new position as a D.C. congressman before he is visited by God, who warns of an impending flood and wants him to begin construction on an ark. For Evan, not the most religious of men, he finds this ridiculous. By the time he is being accosted by seemingly every species in the animal kingdom and wakes up with a beard that instantaneously grows back when shaved, he is whistling a different tune. With his career on the line, his respect in jeopardy, and his marriage put to the test, Evan has no choice but to follow through with God's wishes. If a flood arrives on the specified date of September 22, an ark could save countless lives. If it does not, he can kiss his political career (and perhaps his mental health) goodbye.
An ability to suspend disbelief is required to accept "Evan Almighty" for what it isa silly, inconsequential comedic fantasy. The premise feels like a tacked-on excuse to cash in on Steve Carell's rising popularity, and the narrative generally consists of a lot of ark-building, a vast array of animal appearances, and a generous helping of physical hijinks. One music montage, for example, is dedicated to Evan falling off his wooden planks and accidentally hammering his finger over and over; in a word, it's painful, and in several words, it dubiously reminds of 2007's awful "Are We Done Yet?
" The numerous bird defecations are also unnecessary, yet par for the course in big-studio family comedies, and one has to wonder, among other things, why a bigger deal isn't made in the media when wild animals start showing up on the city streets of Washington, D.C. Furthermore, even if a flood does arrive and innocent citizens seek shelter on the ark, what becomes of the rest of the population placed in harm's way? Director Tom Shadyac fails to consider his own dark implications.
"Evan Almighty" has its share of plot holes, but nitpicking on such things is fruitless. The movie, above all, was made as an undemanding entertainment. On those grounds, the film is quick and enjoyable, doesn't wear out its welcome, and even garners some laughs. Wanda Sykes (2006's "My Super Ex-Girlfriend
") might be proving herself to be a one-trick ponyher film roles consist of her being an assistant or office manager whose every line is like a stand-up comedian's punchlinebut here, as Evan's valiant aide Rita, she is a blast to watch. One of her dialogue deliveries"Ladies first!"is especially hilarious once you know the circumstances surrounding these words. Also humorous is Evan's explanation to his coworkers for his unwieldy beard and robes: "My wife has been going through a Loggins & Messina phase." Such a reference will go over the heads of single-digit audience members, but it's nice to know the movie does take adult viewers into account when penning some of the wittier jokes. Beyond the hit-and-miss humor is a worthwhile environmental message that straddles the line between well-meaning and heavy-handed, and some surprisingly thoughtful discussions about what's important in life and the purpose of prayer that are effective without sermonizing.
As the put-upon Evan, Steve Carell is just okay, his blisteringly wicked sense of humor softened and streamlined for this occasion. He gets the job done, but Wanda Sykes and Morgan Freeman, the latter warm and reassuring as the big guy upstairs, have all the best lines. As Evan's wife Joan, Lauren Graham (2007's "Because I Said So
") is vibrant as she always is, but as is usually the case as well, her "patient wife" role is beneath what she is capable of. As Evan's three sons, Johnny Simmons, Graham Phillips and Jimmy Bennett (2006's "Poseidon
") shuffle in and out of every scene in a pack, and are given no chance to develop separate personalities and characters. Meanwhile, the animalsyou name it, the film's got itare appropriately cute. Thankfully, they don't mug for the camera in every shot.
For the majority of its running time, "Evan Almighty" was running on a straight path toward harmless mediocrity. That all changes for the better by the time the third act shifts into high gear. Simply put, the climax features what is not only the most thrilling action set-piece of any movie so far this summer, but also one of the few that inspired awe and felt like it hadn't been done before. Preposterous as it is, the ambitions and imagination and impressive visual effects of this sequence deserve kudos. Its sheer showmanship, mixed with a solid heart and a nice last scene, raise the finished product from take-it-or-leave-it to worth recommending in five minutes flat.