Directed by: Tom Shadyac
Starring: Steve Carell, Lauren Graham, John Goodman, Morgan Freeman
Rated: PG for mild rude humor and some peril.
Parental Notes: Like the ratings note says, this is PG for a little rude humor (bird poop jokes, for example) and some peril (like frightened folks getting taken for a watery ride in the ark), but it’s probably fine for all but the littlest ones.
Back in 2003, Jim Carrey starred in the lightweight comedy “Bruce Almighty.” It was full of Carrey’s trademark lunacy, but also had a sweet side and a few things to say about religion and the average person’s relationship with God. Now, director Tom Shadyac and writer Steve Oedekirk have gotten back together and taken the best elements of that film to create a sequel-of-a-sort, “Evan Almighty.” Although it’s a bit different, this new film is excellent and well worth seeing for anybody who can laugh at religion and still think it has something good to say.
Evan Baxter (Steve Carell, “The Forty-Year-Old Virgin”) was introduced as a bit character in “Bruce Almighty.” A snooty newscaster, he beat Bruce out for the position of anchor and wound up on the receiving end of some of Bruce’s divine wrath. Since then, Evan has run for and won a seat in Congress, and the film opens with his family moving to a lovely new suburb as he prepares for his first days in office. Encouraged by his wife Joan (Lauren Graham, “The Gilmore Girls” series), Evan prays for God to help him fulfill his campaign slogan and “change the world.” The next morning, increasingly bizarre things begin happening to him, starting with mysterious deliveries of tools and wood and culminating with the appearance of God (Morgan Freeman, “Lucky Number Slevin”).
God wants Evan to build an ark, and he is not taking “no” for an answer. Evan keeps trying to work, co-sponsoring a bill with Congressman Long (John Goodman, “Cars”), but animals are following him everywhere and more wood keeps being delivered to his house. When he finally agrees and starts to constructing the ark, his facial hair grows (and regrows instantly when he shaves it) until he starts looking like the classical image of Noah. A robe appears, and turns out to be the only thing he can wear out of the house without it vanishing. He tries to both work on the ark and work in congress, but he can’t. And worse, there’s no sign of rain.
Carell is a top-notch comedian, and he really shows his range in “Evan Almighty.” He handles a slapstick-filled construction montage with the sort of fully-comitted intensity one expects of the old silent film comedians. He handles the sort of self-deprecating awkward humor of a man out of his element very well. He even manages to pull off scenes with animals without looking utterly ridiculous, which is impressive.
Morgan Freeman seems like he was born for the role of God. He walks the line between being too serious and too flippant just right, and the result is a gentle, friendly deity who’s very appealing, even when he’s being merciless in giving folks what they need rather than what they want. When he tells Evan that everything he does, he does out of love, we believe him, even if we can’t help wincing at Evan’s misery.
One of the strengths of “Evan Almighty” as opposed to “Bruce Almighty” is that its leading man isn’t eagerly over-the-top. We can laugh with Evan rather than at him, and he’s an extremely sympathetic character. Folks who are looking for another “Bruce Almighty” will probably be disappointed — Evan is a more serious character than Bruce, and “Evan Almighty” is a lot lighter on the scenery-chewing and over-the-top idiocy. However, those looking for a nice light comedy with a touch of religious philosophy will likely find it hits the spot.