Evan Baxter (Steve Carell, "The 40 Year Old Virgin"), the Buffalo news anchor skewered by Bruce Nolan, is riding high after having been elected to congress with campaign promises to change the world. A new McMansion and some serious real estate on Capitol Hill await him in DC and an invite to cosponsor a Land Act bill by senior Congressman Long (John Goodman, "O Brother, Where Art Thou?") would seem to have him off to a good start, but God (Morgan Freeman, "Bruce Almighty") has different ideas for Baxter in "Evan Almighty."
Rumored to be the most expensive comedy ever made, the laughs come at a high price in "Evan Almighty," as much as $50 million per snicker. Switching gears from its predecessor, director Tom Shadyac ("Ace Ventura: Pet Detective," "Bruce Almighty"), screenwriter Steve Oedekerk and the "Garfield" duo of story scribes Joel Cohen and Alec Sokolow, aim for something more Capraesque, but their story set up is painfully forced and its denouement only vaguely satisfying. Thank god for all the cute animals.
Cribbing from countless other films, "Evan Almighty" begins with a father making promises of family time that he immediately reneges on with work pressure. Baxter's chief of staff, Marty (John Michael Higgins, "For Your Consideration"), is excited by the opportunity of hitching their trailer to Long's and so Baxter must read through a voluminous bill. A second major problem? Marty's soundbite description of said legislation - 'a bill to open fringe areas of parks for development' - screams anti-environmentalism and corruption. No one seems to notice.
Then strange things begin to happen. Evan's alarm, set for 7 a.m., keeps going off at 6:14. Pairs of birds and animals begin to follow him around. Piles of wood and antique tools are delivered to his home. God stops by to tell him to build an ark because of a flood due midday on September 22. The fastidious Baxter (we've witnessed a three step noise hair removal regimen, hair removal becoming a Carell speciality) cannot keep his beard from growing back as soon as he's shaved it and he finds he's quite comfy in the flowing robes he finds in his closet. Wife Joan (Lauren Graham, TV's 'The Gilmore Girls,' "Because I Said So") becomes seriously disturbed and takes the kids packing when Evan shares his mission during a nationally broadcast congressional committee meeting.
For all its special effects (the animal sequences are truly delightful and a CGI but involving a fish tank is one of the film's few inspired moments) and comedic acting pedigrees, it is telling that the film's best scene is a quite moment between Morgan Freeman and Lauren Graham at a roadside restaurant where he gently prods her understanding while modernizing his loaves and fishes miracle. The remainder of the film is the buildup of both the ark and the pre-flood media blitz that finds crowds of people heckling Baxter even though pairs of animals from around the world have appeared at his ship building site.
This type of film that wants its audience to congratulate itself on recognizing an 'in joke' so broad it smacks you upside the head. A montage of Carell alternately pounding his thumb with a mallet and falling off wood piles is a real groaner. Even worse is that Carell brings nothing funny to the table. Baxter's victory 'dance,' an uptight little number, is overused, but at least the actor does attain a type of weighed down wisdom the more he follows God's will. A couple of deadpan sight gags involving Evan and the animals are well staged.
The big set piece finale is OK, although not always logical or clear in its editing. A credit roll sequence featuring the entire cast in dance party mode is nowhere near as satisfying as "Virgin's" love-in, but Molly Shannon ("Year of the Dog") as real estate agent Eve Adams gets in a few laughs writhing on the floor.
"Evan Almighty" will appeal to summer movie goers looking for light entertainment of the thought-free variety, but it does not stand up to interrogation.
Evan Baxter (Steve Carell) gave up his news anchor job in Buffalo when elected to the United States Congress. Right from the beginning of his term, the new representative is on the fast track with the help of powerful Congressman Long (John Goodman). A wrench is thrown into the works, though, when he is visited by the Big Kahuna himself – God (Morgan Freeman) – and given the task to prepare for a great flood and build an ark in “Evan Almighty.”
First off, why is this movie named “Evan Almighty”? In its predecessor, “Bruce Almighty,” the title character is recruited by God to fill in for Him in the Number One Job in the Universe. Here, though, the Big Guy tasks Evan with building the aforementioned ark, supplying Evan with two of every animal to fill the planned boat. So, what is so almighty about a new age Noah? Not much, as it turns out.
Evan Almighty” does what it sets out to do – appeal to the masses without requiring anything by way of thinking. This is a visually deft eye candy of a movie that shows its $200 million price tag (the most expensive comedy ever made} with its terrific CGI. Too bad that the story, by Steve Oedekerk, Joel Cohen and Alec Sokolow, is nowhere near a match for the fabulous effects, mainly due to the enormous plot holes you could sail the proverbial ark through.
After God “requests” that Evan build him the big boat, the normally fastidious congressional representative finds he is not able to shave or cut his hair. In just a couple of days, Evan looks like he has neglected his grooming for months but no one seems to think this is in any way unusual, only scruffy. When Long visits Evan in his new office, the frosh congressman is surrounded by hundreds of exotic birds. Again, nobody seems to think this is at all remarkable, just that Evan is acting weird. There are a number of miraculous events taking place around Baxter that none see as miraculous. As such, “Evan Almighty” requires a strong suspension of disbelief from anyone with an IQ higher than a slug’s.
Those who do not see these discrepancies will be wowed by the computer effects of the thousands of different animals – from lions and tigers and bears (oh, my!) to skunks, wolves, peacocks and all manner of creatures – that descend upon Evan, especially when they join him and his family in the ark’s construction. Evan taking a break form his toil to have a glass of lemonade with a baboon is a priceless image. This aspect of “Evan Almighty” is worth the price of admission for less discerning audiences, mainly kids, and will be the reason for the film’s box office success. For me, I could have waited until it came to my satellite dish. I give it a C+, and that only because of the fab F/X.
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