In theory, “Evan Almighty” could have inundated theaters with laughter. Instead of playing to the same adult audiences that praised “Bruce Almighty” though, writer Steve Oedekerk and director Tom Shadyac decided to play it safe.
They decided to make it family friendly.
The premise is simple: God, portrayed once again by the transcendent Morgan Freeman, shows up on newly elected U.S. Congressman Evan Baxter’s doorstep and tells him to build an ark. Apparently, there’s a flood coming … and God provides the precise date.
The ensuing story follows Evan as he struggles first to accept and then to cope with his assignment. God, showing his infinite sense of humor, persuades Evan by making real estate purchases on his behalf, harassing him with a constant parade of animals (two-by-two, of course) and afflicting him with uncontrollable facial hair.
Carell can’t be faulted. He gracefully pulls off the American Everyman role. In his best moments, his performance is reminiscent of Jimmy Stewart. In scenes involving his wife (Lauren Graham) and children, he conveys to the audience both genuine affection and growing disappointment that his career has begun to derail his commitment to his family.
Loyalty to family makes up one half of the film’s conspicuous themes; the other is misuse of natural resources. The villain in “Evan Almighty” is a senior statesman, played by John Goodman, trying to get Evan to sign on to a bill that would put National Park lands into the hands of developers.
With a biblical tale as its centerpiece, the costly “Evan Almighty” – with all those effects, the price tag was around $175 million to make the film – from its initial conception to the post-production phase was a risky venture, particularly for a summer movie crowd used to seeing superheroes in tights, young wizards and pirates. That’s not to say a movie with a message couldn’t have been a success, though.
In his book “Comedy, Tragedy and Religion,” John Morreall writes that comedy is more than just a time out from the world. “Rather,” he argues, “it provides another perspective on the world, a perspective no less true than the tragic perspective.”
The problem, of course, is that “Evan Almighty” just isn’t that funny. It’s cute. Too cute. Too cute to be taken as serious commentary on the state of the environment, on political corruption or even on the issue of familial obligations.
For kids, “Evan Almighty” is a fun 90-minute diversion; for adults, it’s much less gratifying. Don’t look for philosophical fodder – it was washed away in a flood of schmaltz.