the film snob

A cyberspace journal about my experiences as an NYU film school grad student, reviews of current and classic films, film and TV news, and the rants and raves of an admitted (and unapologetic) film snob.

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Location: Washington D.C.

Esse Quam Videri -- To be, rather than to appear

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Evan Almighty

It makes sense that the sequel to 2003’s hit Bruce Almighty should star Steve Carell instead of Jim Carey. Hilarious as Carey was, everyone knows Carell absolutely stole the show as the prissy, narcissistic Evan Baxter. His scene as a verbally flummoxed anchorman is reason alone to return to Bruce Almighty again and again.

But don’t call him anchorman Evan Baxter anymore. That’s Congressman Evan Baxter to you. While it’s hard to imagine the preening egoist from the first film with a beautiful wife and kids, that is exactly who Evan Almighty reveals to have been by his side all along. Having just won the seat as the newest freshman congressman from New York, Evan packs up his family and moves them lock, stock and barrel in his brand new Hummer to a brand new housing development just outside Washington D.C. for his brand new job.

As they climb into bed their first night in the new house, Evan’s wife Joan (the always luminous Lauren Graham, and yes, pun intended) mentions that she just prayed with the boys that their new life in Washington would go well. When Evan mentions that he doesn’t believe in prayer, Joan reminds him of his campaign pledge to “change the world.” That’s a pretty tall order without any help, she tells him. Later that night, while Joan is fast asleep, Evan slips to his knees beside the bed and asks God to him in his quest to change the world.

Be careful what you ask for — you just may get it.

It’s not that Evan didn’t expect God to answer his prayer; he simply didn’t expect him to do it in person. When Evan wakes up the next morning, a man shows up claiming to be God (Morgan Freeman) and tells Evan that he wants him to build an ark. “You want to change the world,” God says, “So do I.” Needless to say, Evan is a tad bit skeptical, despite being given a copy of “Ark Building for Dummies.” But God has an eternity of patience and a funny sense of humor.

Almost immediately, odd things begin to happen. Deliverymen show up on Evan’s doorstep with truckloads of lumber and ancient hand tools. Animals begin to stalk him. And his normally fastidiously maintained appearance disintegrates when no amount of trimming will stop his hair and beard from growing and growing…and growing. Begrudgingly, Evan begins to build the ark, despite not having any idea what it’s for. Needless to say, his Capitol Hill staffers don’t exactly feel the crazy Gandalf look is his best PR move. The public takes him about as seriously as the onlookers recorded in the Book of Genesis did Noah. The butt of jokes and derision, Evan is humiliated at work and increasingly alienated from a family that takes his religious zeal as a mid-life crisis. While Evan is on the verge of losing everything he holds dear, the ark begins to take shape, and thousands of animals begin showing up at the construction site, two by two or course.

Evan Almighty is not as good as its predecessor. Whereas Bruce Almighty sustained laughs throughout its running time, Evan Almighty seems satisfied with limiting them to the film’s first few acts. Carell is funniest when dealing with his transforming appearance, the arrival of the animals, and a particularly uproarious montage during which I had tears running down my face watching him hurt himself in any number of ways while trying to begin construction of the mammoth boat. The Steve Carell of the second half has more in common with his subdued character in Little Miss Sunshine —his trademark zaniness is traded for a calmer turn that, while not nearly as funny, is still consistently amusing, entertaining and ultimately uplifting.

Evan Almighty is peppered with amusing supporting characters and colorful cameos including John Goodman, Wanda Sykes, Molly Shannon, Jonah Hill and “The Daily Show’s” Jon Stewart and Ed Helms.

The special effects are impressive, especially when you consider that each of the thousands of animals had to be inserted and integrated into the scenes one at a time. When the flood waters come, the digital artists outdo themselves creating a raging wall of water that sweeps through the countryside and sends the mammoth ark careening into downtown Washington D.C.

As with the first film, Evan Almighty is interested in teaching us a moral lesson or two between guffaws. While the reason behind the ark amounts to an elaborate endorsement of environmentalism and the need for human beings to live in harmony with nature, the film is also a meditation on holding fast to faith even in the face of overwhelming skepticism, and the need for random acts of kindness in a world increasingly ruled by self-interest.

Despite whatever shortcomings Evan Almighty may have, this story of an extraordinarily funny man put in absolutely outlandish circumstances is uplifting and constantly entertaining. When it lags or doesn’t always live up to our expectations, it is still superior to most of the stuff playing the theaters next door.

To read this story in its original form, click here.


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