Carell the new chosen one in “Evan Almighty”
Heaven help parents if Hollywood stops making silly, good-natured, PG-rated family comedies on the level of “Evan Almighty.” It’s no classic, but for weary parents who want to be at least occasionally entertained while their kids laugh at endless pratfalls and animal antics, this sequel to 2003’s successful “Bruce Almighty” could have been at lot worse. And its religious references carefully instruct without offending believers or non-believers, an accomplishment of biblical proportions in this day and age.
In short, “Evan Almighty” is this year’s “Night at the Museum” without the big name supporting cast (no Dick Van Dyke or Mickey Rooney). Instead, it relies on talented lead Steve Carell as Evan Baxter who, when we left him in the original installment, was the humiliated weatherman to Jim Carrey’s ambitious anchorman. Many fans of Carell, (who starred in 2005’s R-rated hit “The 40 Year-Old Virgin,” and TV’s “The Office”) will no doubt be disappointed by the toned-down, Jerry Lewis-level of humor in his latest movie. Those fans are not the target market for this film.
As newly elected congressman Evan takes his wife (Lauren Graham of TV’s “Gilmore Girls”) and three kids to Washington D.C. to assume his new post, he is visited by God (Morgan Freeman, who reprises his role from “Bruce Almighty”) and is commanded to build an ark. Genesis 6:14 clues bombard the hapless Baxter, and scores of animals flock to him– in pairs, of course– making the transition to his new political career difficult. Naturally, people think he’s gone religiously wacko when he starts to build the ark, announces a flood is imminent, and see his wardrobe and hair change dramatically overnight. Carell handles the over-reactive nature of the gags with aplomb, and is helped by a talented supporting cast that includes John Michael Higgins, Wanda Sykes, John Goodman, and Jonah Hill.
Just about the time the bird poop gags grow tiresome, the plot gets to its somewhat predictably stormy climax. But not before a few sweet scenes involving Freeman (as noble and jovial a God as has ever graced the silver screen), who teaches a few life lessons that never feel heavy handed or trite.
The screenplay was written by Steve Oedekerk, who in addition to writing “Bruce Almighty” also wrote such goofball fare as “Kung Pow: Legend of the Fist” and the occasionally funny but maudlin “Patch Adams.” Carell has a good screen presence but no actor alive can make gut busting laughter out of hackneyed silliness like the iconic Carrey. Where Carrey needs only one animal in a scene, Carell benefits from having herds of them. In “Evan Almighty,” the lesser species steal more than a few scenes– and, thankfully, the CGI employed is not always as obvious as the humor.
Considering its bible-lite theme, “Evan Almighty” will be criticized by some for being too sugary sweet, safe and predictable. But you won’t hear those lamentations coming from grateful parents.
Rated PG for mild rude humor and some peril.