Friday, June 22, 2007

Evan Almighty

“Genesis 6:14: Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch.” Now I don’t know exactly what that means, but boy doesn’t that sound like the stuff to make an insanely expensive summer blockbuster comedy? Um…

As the film opens Evan Baxter (Steve Carrell) leaves the newsroom and moves his family (Lauren Graham, Johnny Simmons, Graham Phillips, Jimmy Bennett) to Washington to begin his new career as a freshman Congressman. With a new house and a new job things are looking good for Evan. Except that God (Morgan Freeman) shows up and commands Evan to make him an ark. Despite Evan’s steadfast refusal God won’t take no for answer and puts the poor Congressman through hell until he accepts his responsibility, even at the cost of his job, his dignity, and his family. Evan’s appearance is altered, his hair and beard begin to grow, his clothes disappear, and animals, in pairs, begin to be attracted to his presence. Finally, with no other recourse, Evan gives in and accepts the responsibility of building the ark.

Overall the performances are good. Carrell makes a likable leading man, as he proved in The 40 Year-Old Virgin, and spends most of the time getting shit on (more on that later) by God’s odd sense of humor. As the heart of the film he serves a purpose of giving us someone to both root for and care about.

John Michael Higgins, Jonah Hill, and Wanda Sykes have small and inconseqential roles as Evan’s Congressional staff as their characters are given only enough screen time to make a short one-liners and then disappear for large stretches of time. John Goodman does what he can with the thinly written baddie politician of the piece. And Molly Shannon shows up, I’m assuming, just to annoy me.

And I can do without the animal crap-humor! Jeesh! I know Hollywood loves crap jokes, but please learn to control yourselves. There are at least four different such jokes in the film. Birds defecating on someone is mildly amusing, but it’s hardly hilarious (and it becomes less, not more, amusing each time it happens). When you get right down to it that’s the central problem with the film. It will keep your interest and make you chuckle and you’ll have a good time, but there are no big laughs, no real memorable moments, and nothing to discuss with your friends afterwards (certainly no Man-o-Lantern in this one!).

And somebody explain the title to me please. In the first film Jim Carrey becomes omnipotent, a God, aka almighty, and that’s where the title comes from. Here God just makes Carrell build a big wooden boat and tortures him when he refuses. I don’t know about you but that doesn’t sound very “almighty” to me. Did no one in marketing catch this? This might seem a small complaint, but it is emblamatic of one of the problems with the film - going for the cheap or easy joke like the crap jokes or the beard jokes, which are just a little too reminiscent of The Santa Clause for me, rather than thinking each problem through and crafting something more original.

One scene the film does have going for it is God’s explanation to Evan’s wife (Graham) of “God’s mysterious ways.” Rarely, in film or real life, have I heard a better explanation and the scene provides a nice moment for Graham who otherwise is left trying to act confused, sad, bewildered and angry (all at the same time) about what is happening to her husband. There are few such moments in the film that make it worth seeing, but if the entire film had been handled with the same care this might have been a truly miraculous film rather than just a flood of crap-jokes and one-liners.

For what amounts to the most expensive comedy ever made ($175,000,000) the film is a slight disappointment. There are many laughs with some good bits throughout, and a couple of touching moments, but much like Bruce Almighty the film fails to inspire the big laughs that seem to be just around the corner. Still, it’s an enjoyable little summer comedy that should entertain you, at least for awhile.

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