Evan Almighty: Tom Shadyac Sequel to Bruce Almighty, Starring Steve Carell

In Tom Shadyac’s “Evan Almighty,” a sequel to the smash hit comedy “Bruce Almighty,” Steve Carell reaffirms his status as one of the most prominent and charming comedians of his generation. He also proves that the adage, “Beware of children and animals,” is not always valid in a picture that’s full of creatures that never steal the spotlight when he is on screen.

That said, “Evan Almighty” is too much of a conceptual picture, and for a comedy, not very funny. With few exceptions, this schizoid picture consists of many chuckles, but not the big, healthy laughs you would expect from an ultra-expensive, over-produced summer movie.

Universal’s 2005 comedy “Bruce Almighty”, which starred Jim Carrey, was a bonanza at the box-office, grossing almost half a billion dollars worldwide. Unlike most American, comedies it was popular both stateside and overseas. It remains to be seen to what extent Carell can follow in Carrey’s footsteps and carry the movie, which is described as the most expensive comedy ever made, burdened by a budget of north than $175 million.

Though Jim Carrey was the star, “Bruce Almighty” also launched the career of Carrel, who played Evan Baxter, the polished, preening newscaster and chief rival of Carrey’s title character. You may recall that Evan and his omnipresent smugness were given an affliction by the all-powerful Bruce: the ability to speak in a torrent of babble while he was on the air.

Since 2005, Carell has starred in big Hollywood movies, such as “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” small indie comedies, such as the Oscar-winning “Little Miss Sunshine,” TV’s popular series “The Office,” and a regular correspondent on Jon Stewart’s bright news magazine, “The Daily Show.” He’s certainly a comedian blessed with versatility and wide range.

And now, Carrel returns in a leading role in Shadyac’s comedy, as the next man anointed by God to accomplish a complicated mission that will shake the foundations of Evan Baxter’s existence as husband, father, and citizen.
Bringing his unique brand of witty humor and on-screen gravitas, not to mention his richly musical voice, Freeman returns to the franchise as God, interceding in the life of the Baxters.

Newly elected to Congress, Evan has left Buffalo behind to establish a new home with his wife Joan (Lauren Graham of TV’s “Gilmore Girls” fame) and three sons, Dylan (Johnny Simmons), Jordan (Graham Phillips, and Ryan (Jimmy Bennett) in Virginia’s suburban town of Huntsville, where they plan to begin the next significant chapter of their lives.

As the Baxters nestle into their house in the Northern Virginia hills, Evan prepares for his first day as a freshman Congressman from New York. Casually offering a prayer to God to “change the world,” little does the spiritual politico know that God already has plans for himgrand plans.

Several writers are credited with this saga, which is penned by longtime Shadyac collaborator Steve Oedekerk (“The Nutty Professor,” “Bruce Almighty”), from a story by him, Joel Cohen and Alec Sokolow, based on characters created by Steve Koren and Mark O’Keefe in “Bruce Almighty.”

End result is a populist-political-religio comedy that struggles to combine the charm of Capra Depression films (call it “Mr. Baxter Goes to Washington”), a reimagining of the biblical fable of Noah’s Ark with a strong desire to please Christian audiences, and a multi-generational yarn with appeal for all members of the family based on the dictates of PG rating.

When Evan is invited to co-sponsor a high-profile bill by one of the House’s most powerful members, Congressman Long (well-cast John Goodman of “Big Lebowski” and TV’s “Roseanne” fame), he’s sure his prayers have been met. To that extent, he surrounds himself with a colorful team of aides. He appoints Rita (Wanda Sykes) as his assistant, Marty (John Michael Higgins) as chief of staff, and Eugene (Jonah Hill) as intern. The entire clique seems to be pleased at the opportunity they’re given. However, there’s a price to be paid, and the commitment to the job necessitates neglect of family duties.

The goal of the narrative from that point on is to throw the self-centered Evan out of order, to turn his life upside down with all kinds of odd events and impossible challenges. First, there is a mysterious delivery of ancient tools and large parcels of wood; then there is stalking by birds of every kind.

Things go from worst to worst, and Evan descends into a state of comic but existential confusion, when God makes one “simple” dictate: Evan must build an ark to prepare his family and friends for a big deluge.

What’s a guy to do Assisted by his three boys and following the text “Ark Building for Dummies,” Evan obeys. He begins to build the ship, though clearly he’s clueless as to what’s ahead of himor his ark. To his dismay, animals of all shapes and sizes appearuntil a menagerie of God’s creatures inhabits the forest around his home.

Soon Evan himself begins to transform physically into a barely recognizable bearded, longhaired, robe-wearing man that would have impressed a Hollywood showman like Cecil B. De Mille in the 1950s, since Evan’s beard, despite trimming and tussling, continues to grow.

Is Evan really losing his sanity Is it just a midlife crisis of a complacent man As a screen type, Evan may be a reworking of the successful professional WASPs that we saw in early 1990s pictures like “Regarding Henry” (Harrison Ford) or “The Doctor” (William Hurt). In “Evan Almighty,” which carries the notion of the American Dream to an extreme, Evan is a polished professional, brimming with ambition and self-importance, yet he’s also imbued with a real desire to do good, to make a difference in the world.

Initially, size matters. Evan desires the biggest house, the biggest car, the biggest job, failing to realize the human cost of all that materialistic consumption. Embarking on a moral odyssey, he needs to learnthe hard waythe heavy cost, the price for his ambitions.

Problem is, “Evan Almighty” is not very funny, and in the film’s second half, the yarn lapses in matter of taste and proportion, perhaps trying to justify its exorbitant budget and tagline, a comedy of biblical proportions.

Cast

Evan Baxter (Steve Carell)
God (Morgan Freeman)
Joan Baxter (Lauren Graham)
Dylan Baxter (Johnny Simmons)
Jordan Baxter (Graham Phillips)
Ryan Baxter (Jimmy Bennett)
Congressman Long (John Goodman)
Rita (Wanda Sykes)
Marty (John Michael Higgins)
Eugene (Jonah Hill)
Eve Adams (Molly Shannon)

Credits

A Universal release, presented with Spyglass Entertainment in association with Relativity Media, of a Shady Acres/Barber-Birnbaum/Original Film production.
Produced by Tom Shadyac, Gary Barber, Roger Birnbaum, Neal H. Moritz, Michael Bostick. Executive producers, Ilona Herzberg, Dave Phillips, Matt Luber, Tom Hanks, Gary Goetzman. Co-producers: Jonathan Watson, Amanda Morgan Palmer, Ori Marmur.
Directed by Tom Shadyac.
Screenplay, Steve Oedekerk; story, Oedekerk, Joel Cohen, Alec Sokolow, based on characters created by Steve Koren, Mark O’Keefe.
Camera: Ian Baker.
Editor: Scott Hill.
Music: John Debney
Production designer: Linda DeScenna.
Art director: Jim Nedza.
Set decorator: Ric McElvin.
Costume designer: Judy Ruskin Howell
Sound: Jose Antonio Garcia.
Visual effects supervisor: Douglas Hans Smith.

MPAA Rating: PG.
Running time: 94 Minutes.