June 21, 2007

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Evan Almighty (PG)
God tells newsman turned congressman Evan Baxter to build an ark and gather unto him a male and female of all the animals of the Earth — even the ones that poop a lot — in Evan Almighty, a sort-of sequel to the 2003 movie Bruce Almighty.

Evan Baxter (Steve Carell), a newscaster in Bruce, wins a bid for Congress. He packs up the family — wife Joan (Lauren Graham) and sons Dylan (Johnny Simmons), Jordan (Graham Phillips) and Ryan (Jimmy Bennett) — and moves to an ungodly large McMansion suburban Virginia. On arriving at his congressional offices, Evan receives yet another princely abode but he soon learns that his spacious new offices aren’t a miracle but a maneuver by Congressman Long (John Goodman) to get Evan to agree to cosponsor a bill to allow development on national preservation lands.

Evan doesn’t seem too bothered by the environmental repercussions of this bill nor does he seem worried about the anxiety his time-consuming new job is causing his family. His biggest worry is the sudden appearance of “Gen. 6:14” everywhere — his license plate, his alarm clock — and the arrival of what he soon learns are ark-making tools. Then God (a very divine Morgan Freeman) shows up to spell it all out for him — Evan must build an ark in preparation of a flood that is coming on Sept. 23, midday. Evan doesn’t immediately believe this but the sudden appearance of pairs of animals — many of the birds in need of a newspaper-lined cage — and a beard he can’t shave off convinces him that maybe boat building should be the new family project.

Naturally, there is wackiness — the animals, the beard, Evan’s eventual wardrobe shift into robes — and there are mushy scenes about family relationships, most of them with Graham singing a one-note chorus of worry about Their Lives. We get messages about having faith in humanity and kindness (the movie is very nondenominational so while it is solidly pro-faith, Evan remains pretty vague about what, exactly, the faith is in) and a subplot about political malfeasance. The family is sort of blandly sitcom-ish leaving the work group — Wanda Sykes, John Michael Higgins and Jonah Hill — to add most of the sidekick humor.

No surprise but the best scenes with the most amount of funny are when Freeman and Carell are teasing out the meaning of the universe themselves. This kind of soft comedy is lighter than the roles Carell has played in The Office or The 40-Year-Old Virgin but he still finds a way to make the most of every punchline and comic moment.

Evan Almighty isn’t a belly-shaker — it’s not brilliantly deadpan like The Office, buffoon-ish like Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy or nuanced like The 40-Year-Old Virgin. It’s family fare — softer to the point of mushines at some points. No observation is too pointed, no joke is too clever. The movie wants to bring in the faithful and the agnostic and so it seems to have made an effort not to offend or confuse anyone. There is nothing difficult to take in Evan Almighty — though a bit churchier than I remember the last movie being it stays firmly in the “be nice to others” and “do good deeds” territory.

Evan Almighty is a tolerable comedy for people who are more or less tolerant of a story that makes casual but not preachy mention of prayer. It’s funny in bits, goofy in parts and occasionally a weaker than you’d expect from such a solid comic talent as Carell. C+

Rated PG for mild rude humor and some peril. Directed by Tom Shadyac and written by Steven Oedekerk, Joel Cohen and Alec Sokolow (from characters by Steven Koren and Mark O’Keefe), Evan Almighty is an hour and 36 minutes long and will open in wide release on Friday, June 22. It is distributed by Universal Pictures.