A disaster of near biblical proportions, Evan Almighty proves that faith, hope and massive special effects can't always overcome the simple righteous virtues of a good script. Lately the heavens have been smiling on Steve Carell (The 40-Year-Old Virgin), but the proven comedic powerhouse struggles mightily just to keep this creaky vessel on course, though no one could stay afloat with material this old and soggy.
Poor Mr. Carell got the task of following up 2003's huge Bruce Almighty after Jim Carrey declined by pricing himself out of the market. That said, Carrey's $20 million fee would've been chicken scratch for a movie with a budget north of $160 mil, making Evan the costliest comedy ever.
Wonder what all that scratch buys you?
Pratfalls, shots to the balls and cheap animal gags; the same shit you get free on America's Funniest Home Videos.
Also, do you find it hilarious to see actors get pooped on by birds? Yeah? Good, 'cause it happens to Carell seven times. What's more, you get to see him smash his fingers with a hammer, and bump his head too! In fact, director Tom Shadyac repeats such slapstick ad nauseam with the dire sameness of one of those Bible passages that lists the endless genealogy of Israel with ruthless efficiency.
You've no doubt seen the Evan TV spots, and have been exposed to the premise, which finds Carell's pompous anchor-turned-elected-congressman Evan Baxter, challenged by God (Morgan Freeman) to build an ark before an impending flood. Instead of playing a clueless blowhard (which Carell excels at), his Evan instantly morphs into a goofy sitcom dad. Then he disappears completely under a shaggy beard and flowing locks, forced to mumble preachy platitudes while his friends and family look on in disbelief. And the flick's beltway backdrop allows for a lazy reworking of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, where a plutocratic John Goodman manipulates his junior colleague into sponsoring a shady bill to allow development on national park land.
So, to get right with the lord, Evan starts slapping together a massive ark on the edge of his tony subdivision with the help of baboons, llamas, giraffes, bears and a host of other CGI-assisted critters. It's good kid stuff. But grown-ups will be shocked to see so many otherwise funny people flopping; Molly Shannon, Wanda Sykes and Ed Helms all flail for laughs. Even Jon Stewart's cameo is a bust. But there are moments Lauren Graham's lovely as ever in the role of wife, and Freeman brings along his usual grace.
Long before the flood arrives to cleanse Earth, the movie drowns in false piety and syrupy soliloquies that sound as if they were pinched from the pages of the Purpose Driven Life. This pap might please the family values set and parishioners in for Sunday matinees they might swallow it whole, never noticing that the writers don't believe in a single drop of the snake oil they're selling.
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].