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Evan Almighty   D

Universal Pictures / Spyglass Entertainment

Year Released: 2007
MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Tom Shadyac
Writer: Steve Oedekerk (story by Oedekerk, Joel Cohen, and Alec Sokolow)
Cast: Steve Carell, Morgan Freeman, Lauren Graham, Johnny Simmons, Graham Phillips, Jimmy Bennett, John Goodman, Wanda Sykes, John Michael Higgins, Jonah Hill, Molly Shannon.

Review by Rob Vaux

We'll start with the central irony first: Evan Almighty espouses an anti-business, pro-environmental message as expressed by a giant multinational corporation to the tune of $175 million, and delivered amid the alleged mistreatment of many of the happy furry animals appearing onscreen. There are other ironies too -- I'll point them out as our tour continues -- but this main one shatters whatever fitful enjoyment the film may inadvertently produce along the way. Its origins show through so brazenly -- a committee-fed plot, bolstered by thorough homogenization and whatever buzzword messages the test screenings didn't crush into oblivion -- that approaching it as anything other than infantile consumer piffle is a waste of time. So when it presumes to lecture us about the evils of greed and admonishes us to set aside our materialist ways in favor of what's really important, one can't help but cry bullshit.

And staggeringly unfunny bullshit to boot. As a sequel to the dismal Bruce Almighty, Evan can't be relied upon for much, but with the white-hot Steve Carell topping the bill, we might be forgiven for a little optimism. Pity that director Tom Shadyac approaches it with the same tone-deaf clunkiness that marks all his films. Carell, who stole the show in the first Almighty as simpering news anchor Evan Baxter, returns to the role here, having just been elected to Buffalo's Congressional seat. From the start, it's clear that he had no real character to latch onto. The script gives him a bit of a neatness complex, some routine disdain for the environment, and a helping of schmaltzy sentiment for his family stymied by -- sweet Jesus, not again -- a demanding job that takes up all of his time. (Irony: said job is in the U.S. Congress, home of the three-day workweek.) But like his fellow talking head, Bruce, he soon receives a visit from God (Morgan Freeman), who spends an inordinate amount of screen time convincing him that He is, in fact, who He claims to be before telling him to go forth and build an ark. Why? Well, when God shows up in your rearview mirror, it's best not to ask too many questions.

Nor does Evan Almighty want us to. The film's gargantuan loopholes and shaky logic are glossed over with recycled pratfalls and painful, endless scenes of Carell trying to justify his sudden bizarre behavior. The ark-building eventually commences, goosed a bit by God who gives Evan a hippie beard and Biblical robes that can't be removed. Animals start appearing in twos -- which no one notices except when it serves some forced bit of humor -- and follow him around with creepily choreographed precision. The first half centers firmly on Evan's tired resistance to his divinely ordained mission and embarrassment at being placed in such an awkward position. Midway through, he undergoes an instant conversion -- unjustified by anything save that the running time is starting to stretch -- and accepts God's word that a flood is indeed coming. It alienates his colleagues in Congress and drives his wife (Lauren Graham, stuck in stand-by-your-man mode) up the wall, but as the film so haughtily informs us, it's all for a greater good.

God's eventual purpose reveals itself of course, in a flash of unconvincing CGI after more insufferable wrangling with half-baked subplots and feckless moralizing. Freeman reappears every now and then, reminding Evan how much prettier his Virginia suburb was back before all those homes got built and ruined it. (Irony: those homes exist because of overpopulation -- 6.7 billion people that the film directly lionizes as "God's children.") One of Evan's aforementioned Congressional colleagues (John Goodman) tries to destroy the ark so he can build condos in Yosemite, or something, while Evan learns a Very Important Lesson about standing up for his beliefs. (Irony: said beliefs are thrust upon him by an omnipotent being without room for debate. And since when do summer event pictures want us marching to our own drums? Sheep-like compliance is the only guarantee they'll make their money back.) Evan Almighty strains to string it all together over 90 skimpy minutes, relying on no less than four musical montages to fill up the dead space. In between, Shadyac thrusts an ungainly mixture of moldy family values, gutless religious platitudes, and Carell's fretfully twitching mug in the hopes that we'll be too amused to notice how much it all stinks.

And it stinks all the more because of its naked disingenuousness. This film doesn't believe a single thing it tells us. Not one. It simply regurgitates what marketing research has told it we want to hear, along with a few shots of pooping birds in a vain attempt at laughter. The irony is that, like Bruce Almighty, it wouldn't have taken much to give it a spine. Its disquieting conviction that gibbering religious fanatics may sometimes be right carries a thoughtful subtext that could do wonders with a little more care. How would our secular age respond to a genuine miracle? Imagine if Rudy Giuliani suddenly proved he could part the Hudson River, or Barack Obama started walking on water. (Certainly, there's no shortage of people who'd like to see Hillary Clinton turn into a pillar of salt.) Such high-mindedness might be too much to expect from Evan Almighty, but even the barest touch of inspiration would have produced a far better (or at least more watchable) film. Shadyac and company couldn't be bothered, not even for that. With the superior comedy of Knocked Up still going strong and the wonderful Ratatouille coming to save the family crowd, there's no reason to reward this sad, hubristic display with anything but the contempt it so clearly has for us.

Review published 06.24.2007.

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