It always astounds me when my fellow critics dump on something that’s relatively harmless. Evan Almighty is an example of this and while I concede that it’s not a perfect film, I hardly think it deserves to be reviled like it has. There have certainly been worse movies and there have definitely been worse comedies. If there’s something to dislike about Evan Almighty it’s that it’s painfully, painfully average, not to mention unoriginal. Now that’s hardly the worst crime in the world.
This film, a sort of indirect sequel to Bruce Almighty, focuses on Evan Baxter played by Steve Carell, who’s now a freshman congressman for Buffalo. Evan is wooed by the leader of the House (John Goodman) so that he might support a bill that allows for limited development in America’s National parks. But Evan has asked God for the power to change the world, and God (as played by Morgan Freeman) answers. God asks Evan to build an ark because just like in the story of Noah in Genesis, a flood is coming. Evan doesn’t believe at first, but when the animals start coming two by two, Evan can’t deny his fate.
For the most expensive comedy ever made it really doesn’t feel like you get much for the value. You can tell the film is trying to be epic in scale but for whatever the reason the filmmakers can’t get it there despite the plethora animals both real life and imagined through CGI. The movie also feels rushed as presumably it takes Evan and his family months to build the ark, but in movie time it takes about 35 minutes when set to tunes by John Mayer and CCR.
Carell does a Herculean job of keeping the comedy together, but he doesn’t quite make it happen. Also, the movie changes his character from Jim Carrey’s arrogant, jerkish rival in Bruce to a well-intention, and occasionally self-centred buffoon, who goes through an epiphany when made into the New York Noah. It’s almost as if Evan has flourishes of Touched by an Angel as God offers sage wisdom and touching heartfelt lessons about the qualities of family and balance. There were definitely some struggles in maintaining a distinct tone.
Freeman, meanwhile, can do God in his sleep but at least it seems like he’s having fun. And Goodman can play a Republican jerk in his sleep for that matter, and here I think he does. There’s some descent back-up provided by John Michael Higgins, Wanda Sykes and Jonah Hill, but they don’t have really well developed characters and Sykes always seems like she’s off to the side of the movie offering a commentary track rather then being a participant in the story. Granted her lines are often delivered hilariously, but it’s more like she’s breaking the fourth wall and talking to the audience rather than her co-stars.
Maybe I’m just used to the perfection that is Steve Carell on the Office, or the Steve Carell that’s been in anything else. Maybe it’s because the film is all over the place, part screwball comedy and part genuine family comedy with a chocolate heart. Any way you slice it Evan Almighty just can’t compare to anything from the Carell catalogue despite the quasi-Daily Show reunion on screen. (Jon Stewart and Ed Helms also pop up in different spots.)