'Almighty' is all righty

Though the poop jokes come two by two, Steve Carell starrer is smooth sailing

Posted: June 22, 2007

Here's a weird cultural moment: "Evan Almighty" may top the box office even as the atheist tract "God is Not Great" tops the best-seller list.

As a referendum measured purely in dollars, the edge is likely to go to the comedy "Evan Almighty," in which God is not only great, he's uncharacteristically funny. What does this mean? At the very least, it means that movies make more money than books, and that people like Steve Carell and poop jokes more than acidly written denunciations of religion.

There's plenty of God in "Evan Almighty," but there are also plenty of birds crapping on corrupt legislators and baboons drinking lemonade - a brand of comedy one might call piety-in-the-face.

Carell stars as Evan Baxter, a Buffalo newscaster newly elected to U.S. Congress. (Evan Baxter was a character in "Bruce Almighty" and this is technically a sequel, but his character is wholly reinvented and there is zero continuity between the two.)

His demanding, high-profile job plays to his vanity, causing his wife (Lauren Graham) to pray for greater family unity on behalf of their three kids. Evan guiltily does the same, asking God for help, and before you can say "two of every kind," he's got a load of lumber and ancient tools at the doorstep of his Virginia home.

God (Morgan Freeman) informs Evan that he wants another ark, and that he wants Evan to build it. Evan tries to deny and downplay this assignment, and the movie finds laughs in the embarrassment that 21st-century Evan feels at having been given so Old Testament a task. (Animals follow him everywhere, his beard grows uncontrollably, and his suit morphs into a robe.)

The movie's religious themes, however, are on the back burner. Front and center are the slapstick and visual gags designed to engage a younger, family audience. It wasn't divinity school but "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective" that got director Tom Shadyac his gig here. He wrangles animals with the best of them, and he's Hollywood's go-to guy for any scripts that call for a giraffe to hand up a bucket of nails.

That's one reason that "Evan Almighty," though regarded as another Hollywood sop to Christian audiences, is not likely to please fans of the "Left Behind" books.

I mean, if Jerry Falwell weren't dead already, this movie might have killed him. God is not wrathful here. More like friendly Uncle Morgan. On a fashion scale, He's somewhere between Man From Glad and business casual, and he seems eager to disown his reputation as the kind of guy who would lay waste to a large population of people just because they didn't believe in him.

Here, he's more of a pro-family environmentalist, interested in Evan's sponsorship of federal legislation related to national parks (Wanda Sykes is Evan's sassy assistant on the Hill).

He's mainly interested in laying waste to McMansions and gigantic SUVs. One sight gag, in fact, makes use of Evan's Hummer, which can carry nearly as many animals as his ark. Contrary to the Hummer commercials, though, we see it doesn't do so well under water. *

Produced by Tom Shadyac, Gary Barber, Roger Birnbuam, Neal H. Moritz and Michael Bostick, directed by Tom Shadyac, written by Steve Oedekerk, music by John Debney, distributed by Universal Pictures.

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