Reel Opinions

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Evan Almighty

It would seem that after doing 1995's Ace Ventura sequel, Jim Carrey has a clause in his contract that states he does not do sequels to his successful films. Anyone who actually saw Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls can probably understand why this clause was added. That still hasn't stopped studios from trying to do the job without him. The end result has brought us such stinkers as Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd and Son of the Mask. Now we have Evan Almighty, a loose spin off of 2003's Bruce Almighty, that was obviously greenlit to strike while the iron was hot after Steve Carell became an overnight star with The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Steve Carell had a supporting role in Bruce, and now he's been upgraded to leading man in Carry's place. The end result is a desperately unfunny and unnecessary film that not even Carell's genuine comic talents can rise above.

Smarmy news anchor Evan Baxter (Steve Carell) has just won the election to become a national congressman as the film opens. He leaves Buffalo, New York with his family and moves into a luxurious new home, and a great new office supplied by powerful and corrupt elected official Congressman Long (John Goodman). Long wants to buy Evan's support into helping a controversial land bill get past the Senate. The pressures of the job starts occupying Evan's entire life to the point that he no longer has time for his wife and kids. That's when God (Morgan Freeman) Himself decides to step in. He informs Evan that a flood is coming on September 22nd, and that he wants him to build an ark that can hold two of every animal, as well as the local neighborhood who will be affected by it. Evan, obviously, wants nothing to do with this, but God is very persistent, and is not afraid to use His divine powers to drive Evan to the breaking point before he finally gives in and agrees to God's plan for him. Evan's physical appearance begins to change to resemble that of Noah for reasons unexplained, which obviously puts his personal and professional life in jeopardy. With the entire media and the world mocking him, Evan must find a way to complete the task God has given him before it is too late.

In Bruce Almighty, the character of Evan Baxter was an obnoxious rival of the lead character who mainly acted as a comic foil. As a leading man, Evan has been downgraded to the cliched "dad who doesn't have time for his kids, and has to learn the importance of family" that we have seen one too many times before. It sometimes doesn't even seem to be the same character we saw in the last movie. I can understand that screenwriter Steve Oedekerk (Barnyard) was faced with a difficult situation to make a character we were supposed to hate originally come across as likeable, but he still should have tried harder to stay true to the original character. The Evan Baxter displayed in Evan Almighty is a colorless and bland "dad" character who doesn't seem to have a shred of personality or character. His wife is the typical understanding movie wife who doesn't really have anything to do with the story except have a couple scenes where she talks about how she's worried for Evan's sake when things start turning strange. And the kids are your typical cute movie kids who pop up when needed, say a quick one-liner, and walk away. They're your standard cookie cutter family through and through. Even when God shows up, and animals start miraculously popping up around Evan everywhere he goes, things are still not very interesting. I often found myself wondering why it was so hard for Evan to convince his family that something miraculous was going on. Take the fact that a magical beard suddenly forms on Evan's face that will not go away no matter how many times he shaves it off. Why would it be so difficult for him to prove that the beard grows back as soon as he shaves it off? Couldn't he just take them into the bathroom with him, shave it off, and show them what happens? But then I remember that would make sense, and the movie needed an artificially constructed crisis where the family leaves him briefly, thinking he's gone crazy.

The characters aren't even allowed to be funny, which leaves Carell in a very tight position. He's mainly forced to stand around a bunch of animals, and look confused as if he doesn't know what director Tom Shadyac (Bruce Almighty, Dragonfly) wants him to do. The humor in this movie falls around two basic categories, which mainly revolve around animal droppings and physical pain. There's maybe five instances where bird droppings are used as visual gags. Perhaps even lower on the humor scale is that there is a two minute long music montage devoted entirely to Steve Carell injuring himself and getting hit in the privates continuously as he starts construction on the ark itself. There are a lot of music montages in this movie to pad out the paper-thin and dull plot, as well as one during the end credits, where everyone seems to be having fun, but none of that fun caries into the audience. The only time the movie truly comes to life is during the film's climactic flood sequence, which is incredibly impressive given the mediocrity of everything else. It's been reported that this movie is the most expensive comedy ever made, with a budget that ballooned to over $200 million when it was all over. I can't say the five minute flood sequence was worth that much money, but I was grateful for something to finally stand out after sitting through everything that came before it. Still, by the time it came, it was too little too late.

Bruce Almighty may not have been one of my favorite films that year, but at least it had a cast that seemed to believe in the film they were making. Everyone here seems to know they're filming an unnecessary movie, and everyone seems to be thinking only of the paycheck waiting for them at the end of the day. Steve Carell gives his worst performance since hitting it big here. He's so artificial, phony and forced in his performance that he sometimes comes across as a really bad parody of a game show host than a character. He seems to know that the script has given him nothing funny to do, so he tries to compensate this by overacting and hoping to get some kind of laugh by bulging out his eyes and screaming every other line that comes out of his mouth. His performance just comes across as being sad and desperate. At least he's in good company here, as everyone seems to feel the same way. As his wife, Lauren Graham (from TV's Gilmore Girls and Because I Said So) is given such a cliched "wife" role that she probably wondered why she bothered to show up. They could have inserted any actress into the role, and have gotten the exact same performance. Stand up comic Wanda Sykes as Evan's personal assistant doesn't even seem to be inhabiting the same movie as everyone else, and acts more like she's doing one of her comedy routines, commenting on the action surrounding her rather than actually participating in any way. The only performance that comes close to genuine is Morgan Freeman, who is a very warm and welcoming presence as God. Whenever he's on screen, things pick up slightly, so it's a shame he's restricted mainly to brief cameo appearances off and on.
Is there any way Evan Almighty could have worked? The movie is such a glaringly desperate attempt to squeeze more money out of a successful film that I have to wonder. Everyone involved was obviously in it for the money, and it's painfully obvious in every worthless frame of film. This is a depressing film, because it's obvious no one cared. The studio may as well have just burned the film's budget if they had $200 million to spare. I'm sure Steve Carell will survive this film. His leading man career is young, and he's a natural talent with the right material. Evan Almighty is the kind of film I hope he avoids in the future. He's worked too hard to be where he is today to star in movies where he's forced to fall over stuff and be pooped on by birds continuously. I can only hope this will be a rare misstep in an otherwise great career, instead of an ominous sign of things to come.



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