Four years ago, God appeared to Bruce Nolan, gave him almighty power and took a vacation. The movie centered on showing how tough it is to run the world and give Bruce a little perspective on his own life. In that film we also met Evan Baxter, played by Steve Carell, a co-worker and rival on the television news show where they worked. Now, God has revealed himself to Evan, and rather than offering him perspective on his life, or giving him the almighty power, he is there to assist in a prayer to help change the world. The end result is a sweet, if frustrating movie.
Evan Baxter has left his job as co-anchor of a news show in Buffalo, having been elected to Congress on a platform that promised to “Change the World.” Now that he’s won the election, uprooted his family, and bought an eco-friendly Hummer, he has to step up and make good on that campaign promise. We all know how politicians love to live up to what they said during their campaign, when winning was the only thing. So, we are faced with an Evan Baxter who needs to find a way to make an impact on Congress, and reconnect with his family, which apparently had become second fiddle to his burgeoning career, and it does not start off too well on the family front. No sooner has he moved into his nice new office, he is being buttered up by one of the senior Congressman, named simply Long (John Goodman), to co-sponsor a bill that would allow development on national park land.
At the same time he is approached to sign the bill, Evan receives a box of old school tools, and a pile of wood. Along with these deliveries, God, played by the returning Morgan Freeman, appears to Evan and instructs him to build an ark, a flood is coming. Evan reacted in a way that most of us probably would, we don’t believe, and try to go about our business. God is persistent, and eventually Evan gives in and begins to build the ark, much to the chagrin of his family and staff.
Evan Almighty is frustrating movie. It is a comedy that forgot to be funny, rather it has a terminal case of nice with a small side of sporadic silly. It is not terrible, but it is not good. It falls somewhere in no man’s land, in between actually being funny, and being completely bland. I watched as Steve Carell struggled with a script that did not leave much room for him to stretch his comedic muscle, leaving a performance that was able to generate the occasional smile.
While the funny was checked at the door, I did like that it did haver a core sweetness that did not belittle religious beliefs. Sure, it is not the best presentation of them, but it did not seem to have a cynical bone in its body when it came to portraying religion. It brings up the question of how would people react if someone came out and said that God told them to build an ark. I am sure that many of us would react the same way the those do in the movie, the guy must be crazy. It also brings up what do we get when we ask God for something.
There is one scene that makes this movie, that brings it all into focus. It does not save the movie, it does not make the movie good, but it does bring some perspective, and it just plays very well with what is going on before and after. I am not going to tell you what happens in the scene, but it is between Morgan Freeman and Lauren Graham, who plays Evan’s wife Joan (get it? Joan of Arc? ah forget it). This scene is the keystone that holds it all together.
The sweetness and kind heart that the movie has is all well and good, but the movie is frustrating still. At no point does it become laugh out loud funny, which I would expect with Carell, nor does the story ever really come together. Sure, the story holds water, but why the animals? I get it, animals are funny, and the more you have, the funnier they are. It’s also a Noah’s ark story, it needs animals, but they seriously have no impact on anything.
Anyway, the movie has its nice moments, the core of the story brings a nice message. The acting is mediocre, save for Morgan Freeman who is just perfect for the role. Carell tries, but doesn’t have much to work with, Graham does a decent job, but does not have a lot to do, and John Goodman is fine as the one note bad guy. In supporting roles Wanda Sykes is saddled with some poor one liners and John Michael Higgins is relegated to the over the top double take. The brightest spot in the supporting cast is Jonah Hill as the creepy aid who really likes Evan. Hill is having a pretty good year, also appearing in Knocked Up and the upcoming Superbad.
Bottomline. This is a fine movie for the family, it is inoffensive and will give you a smile and a good message. Just do not go in expecting a laugh out loud comedy, or a movie that is as good as the original. Could it have been better? Definitely. Is it a bad? No. It is a movie that just sort of is. Sit back, relax, smile for a little while, and then move on.