Soggy plot, but heavenly cast in "Evan Almighty"
There's nothing particularly almighty about Evan Baxter (Steve Carell), rival anchorman to Jim Carrey's Bruce Nolan in 2003's "Bruce Almighty"...
Special to The Seattle Times
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"Evan Almighty," with Steve Carell, Morgan Freeman, John Goodman, Lauren Graham, Wanda Sykes, Jonah Hill. Directed by Tom Shadyac, from a screenplay by Steve Oedekerk, based on a story by Oedekerk, Joel Cohen and Alec Sokolow. Rated PG for mild rude humor and some peril. 90 minutes. Several theaters.
There's nothing particularly almighty about Evan Baxter (Steve Carell), rival anchorman to Jim Carrey's Bruce Nolan in 2003's "Bruce Almighty" and hero of "Evan Almighty," the curious and sporadically funny new sequel.
Bruce, at least, was bestowed with preternatural powers by none other than God (Morgan Freeman) himself. Fans of Tom Shadyac's original film will recall that the Man Upstairs decided to take a vacation and leave Bruce in charge of things, suggesting Carrey's beleaguered, selfish character might see if he could do a better job than the Creator.
Becoming God's substitute ultimately had the blessed irony of making Bruce a better person. But there isn't a twist quite so profound or convenient in "Evan Almighty," which shifts attention to Carell's character, now a freshman congressman from the state of New York.
Showtimes and trailer
"Evan Almighty," with Steve Carell, Morgan Freeman, John Goodman, Lauren Graham, Wanda Sykes, Jonah Hill. Directed by Tom Shadyac, from a screenplay by Steve Oedekerk, based on a story by Oedekerk, Joel Cohen and Alec Sokolow.
90 minutes. Rated PG for mild rude humor and some peril.
When God (Freeman again) literally enters Evan's life to reveal the ambitious new politician's divine mission, he doesn't give the poor fellow the abilities of a deity. He completely overturns Evan's world, humiliates and disgraces him in the halls of national power, estranges him from his family and makes him a laughingstock in coast-to-coast media.
In other words, Evan's lot is very much like a lot of Old Testament figures who found themselves compelled to do difficult things without knowing why, discovering that the distance between their own plans and God's plans can be considerable.
The flaw in "Evan Almighty" is its weak, half-baked case for putting Evan through his trials at all, except for giving Carell an opportunity to make us laugh at the sight of his tightly coiled character coming unglued.
Riding into Washington, D.C., on a vague but seemingly heartfelt mandate to "save the world," Evan quickly puts his soul at the disposal of powerful, pro-development forces in the House of Representatives. Congressman Long (John Goodman), a leader in his party (which is never identified), courts Evan's backing on a major bill that will trample legal protections of wildlife and the local environment in general.
In that same cool, laid-back way Freeman's God proved accessible and charming in "Bruce Almighty," he genially but matter-of-factly haunts Evan's days and nights until the latter sees the handwriting on the wall: He, Evan, like Noah, is supposed to build a big old ark in anticipation of a flood.
Evan undergoes a physical transformation into a white-haired, bearded and robed prophet of doom who constructs an enormous ship for transporting two of many kinds (if not all kinds) of species.
The vast majority of these, of course, are hardly native to America's capital, a fact that breaches logic when God's mission for Evan is finally revealed.
Watching Carell take Evan through his metamorphosis, however, is worth any number of holes in the script and the film's shamelessly perfunctory way of portraying Evan, initially, as a guy who needs a lesson in priorities. Of all the films featuring husbands and fathers so distracted by career responsibilities their family life suffers, "Evan Almighty" doesn't bother making the point very strongly, assuming we all know the drill by now.
The film picks up speed with the introduction of Evan's animal attraction for creatures great and small, arriving somehow magically from afar to board the ark upon its completion. Carell, often reminiscent of some of the great silent-screen comedians whose well-intended characters were at odds with larger forces, is hilarious in several scenes where he is besieged by critters. One of the best moments finds Evan captive in his own Capitol Hill office, where birds have congregated everywhere (including on him) just before an important meeting with Long.
The film's considerable computer effects are generally impressive, especially for anyone who has tried to imagine what the sight of Noah's ark bobbing on the cleansing flood must have looked like.
"Evan Almighty" is given a boost, too, by a lively supporting cast, including Wanda Sykes as Evan's sassy secretary, Jonah Hill as a suck-up aide who takes his adulation of Evan a little too far, and Lauren Graham bringing some warm blood to the stock role of an ambivalent wife standing by her troubled spouse.
When all is said and done, "Evan Almighty" comes up short as a story that should seize the imagination and resonate. The pieces don't all fit into place and much of what should be its emotional substance is simply rushed. But as a chance to see Carell fill the screen with his brand of angst and Freeman to charm, it's worth a visit.
Tom Keogh: firstname.lastname@example.org
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