'Almighty' revisits the Flood

Posted: June 22, 2007

'Is this like a midlife crisis?" wonders worried spouse Joan Baxter (Lauren Graham) of her husband, Evan (Steve Carell), when the first-term congressman grows a bushy beard and long hair and starts dog-earring a book called Ark Building for Dummies. Outside their new McMansion, a menagerie of wild beasts is assembling, two by two. Stacks of new lumber appear mysteriously, along with a nice set of B.C.-vintage tools.

Old-fashioned family values and Old Testament thaumaturgy collide in Evan Almighty, a pious slapstick spin-off of the Jim Carrey-plays-God comedy, Bruce Almighty.

Carell, who costarred as Carrey's Buffalo TV newsroom rival in the 2003 hit, returns as Evan Baxter (and returns as a full-fledged comedy star, thanks to The 40 Year Old Virgin) - although his days as an anchorman are over.

Having run on a "Change the World" platform, Evan has won a trip to Washington. He, his wife and three sons decamp to suburban Virginia, and Evan sets up office on Capitol Hill.

That's when the trouble starts: First, a fat-cat pol (John Goodman) recruits the freshman rep to cosponsor a bill to open the National Parks to private development. And then a mysterious, grinning figure dressed in white appears. His name: God (Morgan Freeman, of course, reprising his Bruce Almighty role). God's directive: Build an ark. There's going to be a mighty flood, and animals and people will need saving.

Although Baxter and his wife are good, practicing Christians, the corporeal presence of the All-Knowing One is not an easy thing to deal with. Nor is Evan's sudden animal magnetism: Deer, sheep, hyenas, snakes, eagles, lions, anteaters . . . they're descending on him, dogging him, so to speak.

Is he going crazy? Is that why his hair is turning white? And what's with the biblical robes hanging in his closet?

Evan Almighty, written by Bruce Almighty's Steve Oedekerk and directed by Tom Shadyac, has a few flat-out funny moments, but more often this is a comedy that panders to pip-squeak sensibilities (groin injuries, bird-poop gags), to church-going types (Universal is marketing the film heavily to Christian groups), and to protect-the-planet enviros. In one scene, God shows Evan the way his gated community, Prestige Crest, looked before the forests were felled and the strip malls built: verdant Virginia wilderness, with a river running through it.

Carell has an easygoing comic style. He's an Everyman with arched eyebrows and a capacity for subdued kookiness, and even in the Noah garb, he brings a down-to-earth quality to the modern-day miracle proceedings.

But, ultimately, Evan Almighty is too sappy, too sanctimonious. Even the beaming Freeman, materializing in different getups (a waiter, a motorcycle cop) to spread the Word, becomes hard to take. Almighty hard.


Evan Almighty ** (out of four stars)

Directed by Tom Shadyac, written by Steve Oedekerk, photography by Ian Baker, distributed by Universal Pictures.

Running time: 1 hour, 35 mins.

Evan Baxter.................................... Steve Carell

God. . . Morgan Freeman

Joan Baxter. . . Lauren Graham

Rep. Long................................ John Goodman

Rita. . . Wanda Sykes

Parent's guide: PG (crude humor, mayhem, adult themes)

Playing at: Area theaters


Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/stevenrea.

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