Tuesday 15 January 2008

Evan Almighty (2007)

Tuesday 15 January 2008
Director: Tom Shadyac
Writer: Steve Oedekerk (story by Steve Koren & Mark O'Keefe)

Cast: Steve Carell (Evan Baxter), Morgan Freeman (God), Lauren Graham (Joan Baxter), John Goodman (Congressman Chuck Long), Wanda Sykes (Rita), John Michael Higgins (Marty), Jonah Hill (Eugene Tenanbaum), Jimmy Bennett (Ryan Baxter), Graham Phillips (Jordan Baxter), Johnny Simmons (Dylan Baxter), Molly Shannon (Eve Adams), Ed Helms (Ed Carson), Maile Flanagan (Mail Lady), Jon Stewart (Himself), Catherine Bell (Susan Ortega) & P.J Byrne (Evan's Staffer #1)

After becoming a Congressman, Evan Baxter is tasked by God to build an Ark in preparation for another Great Flood...

The failure of Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls has held Jim Carrey in good stead, as the comedian has now avoided starring in three bad sequels: Dumb & Dumberer, Son Of The Mask, and now this follow-up to Bruce Almighty.

Steve Carrel (The 40 Year Old Virgin – or "Virgin Mary", according to one witless in-joke) stars as Evan Baxter. He was a supporting player in Bruce Almighty, providing that memorable scene where he's compelled to talk gibberish on live TV. Remember?

Here, the Buffalo news anchor has been promoted to leading man for Evan Almighty – another religious family comedy. But whereas Bruce's story, about an everyman being given God's powers, was wish-fulfillment fantasy, Evan's story tackled the altogether trickier subject of a second Great Flood...

Having become a Congressman since the first film, Evan moves house with his wife Joan (Lauren Graham) and three kids (Jimmy Bennett, Graham Phillips and Johnny Simmons; interchangeable), ready to make good on his campaign promise to "Change The World".

As you probably know, God (Morgan Freeman, more impish this time) soon pops up, and tries to persuade Evan to build an Ark in preparation for another flood. It's not long before the number "614" becomes omnipresent in Evan's life (Genesis 6:14, look it up), crates of wood are being mysterious delivered to his door, his beard grows at an extraordinary rate, and animals flock to his side...

For awhile, Evan Almighty seems to be on course as a fun, light-hearted, family comedy. Steve Carrel's comedy performances are all very similar, but he's still an engaging presence. Seeing Evan's change from selfish, political go-getter, to family-orientated "wise man", isn't without its charms. The message may be obvious and blunt, but did you really expect deep insight here? Mind you, a scene between God and Joan in a fast-food restaurant, discussing how God chooses to influence people, is surprisingly thoughtful.

As a modern update of the Noah's Ark story, Evan Almighty is good fun for the most part – with Evan's transformation, and the array of animal sequences, all handled well.

Where the film falls down (badly at times), is in the paucity of big laughs. There are plenty of wry smiles and giggles in the first 30-minutes, but once Evan's Ark-building is fully underway, the film struggles to keep the laughs coming. To compensate, it starts relying on increasingly tiresome one-liners from Wanda Sykes (a sardonic stooge), and continuous slapstick comedy (animal poop, hammer on thumb, falling over, smacked in face, etc).

What kept me watching was seeing how the film would resolve itself. Would a Great Flood really happen and make this the most depressing family comedy ever made? Or would the film leave us with a dry squib finale? Well, I won’t ruin it here, but I thought it was an entertaining middle-ground – which apparently irritated some people, but... I thought it worked quite well. So there.

Ultimately, Evan Almighty is a real menagerie of quality: there are some enjoyable ideas, weak execution at times, plenty of groan-worthy puns, generally winsome performances, good effects, loads of religious in-jokery, and preaching about family values.

It's not the stinker it's bad box-office performance would have you believe -- as there is a fair bit to enjoy here, and it's swift in its pacing. But, a flabby mid-section almost devoid of laughs, and an unfocused subplot with an evil Congressman (John Goodman) is its real undoing. It looks like a few more drafts were required to get the supporting plot up the snuff, and to punch-up the amount of Act II laughs.

Incidentally, for a family comedy that cost $175 million, it's very difficult to see where all that cash went! Did a life-sized Ark, various animals, some CGI, and greenscreen effects cost all that! I can see the production took some management, but the does seem excessive.

Evan Almighty drowned with audiences, but it's not unwatchable, and it's actually quite entertaining at times -- while uncertainty over the resolution keeps you watching through a weak middle.

Universal Pictures
Budget: $175 million
90 minutes