2.5 stars (PG)
Judging from the conversational snippets I heard, there were a lot of people from church groups at the Saturday morning sneak preview for Evan Almighty I attended. The audience laughed throughout the film and offered a round of applause at the end. As the crowd exited, one very pleasant woman, aware that I was a writer, asked me what I thought of the movie. “It was cute,” I said and her smile grew broader.
“Oh good, so you won’t be mean to it!” I returned her smile and shook my head no.
If you are that woman and you picked up a copy of NUVO to see what that man from the sneak preview ended up writing, let me assure you that I was telling the truth when I called the movie “cute.” As for my assurance that I wouldn’t be mean to it, try to look at the following as tough love.
Indeed, Evan Almighty is cute. There are adorable animals all over the place, mostly in pairs, and they do amazing things. They work construction and fetch snacks and occasionally offer humorous reactions to the silly behavior of human beings.
Cute. Silly. That’s Evan Almighty. Unfortunately, it’s also terribly written and not nearly as funny as it should have been. The movie only runs for around 90 minutes, minus the credits, but it spends most of that time relying on the cute animals, the special effects, the likeability of Steve Carell and the goodwill of the family movie crowd to get by.
The Jim Carrey-free follow-up to Bruce Almighty promotes supporting character Evan Baker (Carell, white hot from The 40-Year-Old Virgin and The Office) to the lead position. The story begins as Baker, recently elected to Congress, finishes his last broadcast as a TV reporter before moving to Washington.
Yes, Evan lives in a world where a person can conduct a political campaign while keeping their job on the evening news. Now, I realize that the film is a fantasy-based comedy, but fantasy-based comedies work best when they maintain an internal logic. A good writer sets up the fantastic elements in his story and then has the action proceed credibly within that framework. The lazy writer of Evan Almighty makes no attempt at internal logic whatsoever. Big mistake.
Evan relocates to the Virginia suburbs near D.C. with his bland wife, Joan (ex-Gilmore Girl mom Lauren Graham), and three personality-free sons, where he soon gets tied into the questionable dealings of powerful Congressman Long (John Goodman, utterly wasted here).
God (Morgan Freeman, reprising his George Burns-ish performance from the first film) soon pops up, telling Evan to build an ark for the coming flood. To nudge him along and provide sight gags reminiscent of The Santa Clause, he causes Evan’s beard to grow uncontrollably and his hair to turn white. Evan is treated like a kook rather than a man with something clearly impossible happening to his body because the writers need him to be mocked all the way to the third act.
The third act is a special effects extravaganza of mixed technical quality, with animals galore and a feel-good bumper sticker message. So why am I giving Evan Almighty two and a half stars instead of two or less? Because Wanda Sykes, John Michael Higgins and Jonah Hill are funny as Evan’s congressional staff, because Steve Carell is likable enough to be amusing even while slogging through a half-ass production, because the animals are cute and because I don’t want to disappoint that nice woman from the church group.