From a cynical movie critics perspective, Evan Almighty could be considered an easy target. The films genesis stems from a spec script, entitled The Passion of the Ark, that was re-written to fit into the Almighty universe. A universe that, started by Bruce Almighty, Jim Carrey apparently wanted nothing to do with anymore, thereby necessitating a shift in focus to incidental Bruce character, Evan Baxter.
Throw in the fact that the films Biblical Ark retelling means that this pseudo-sequel is required to feature a whole mess of animals alongside religious overtones, and you have what should be a film ripe for the critic ripping. Should be, but isnt.
As the film opens, Evan Baxter (Steve Carell) is driving his wife, Joan (Lauren Graham) and three kids to their new home in (fictitious) Huntsville, Virginia. Evan has just won a freshman seat in Congress as a representative of New York by, modestly, promising to change the world. A campaign slogan that takes on a whole new meaning when God (Morgan Freeman) appears before Evan with a simple message: a flood is coming, build an ark.
Evan feels pressure between the demands of Congress and the needs of his uprooted family, who barely sees him, so he ignores this whimsical visit from the Lord. Or rather, he tries to. But then animals start following him around; his hair begins to grow uncontrollably; and enough wood to build an ark arrives at his doorstep, along with a crate of old fashioned carpentry tools. And as his appearance begins to shift to a more biblical look, Evan is forced to choose between God and job, forced to make a leap of faith with or without his family.
Truthfully, Evan is tonally so far removed from the blue-collar appeal of Bruce that it should not have been marketed as an Almighty follow-up. The script is by the numbers basically; each act flows effortlessly into the next with all the animal poop humor you could want.
Subplots chime in on cue to move the plot along; ranging from Joans convenient loss of faith in Evan, to the evil machinations of a senior senator (John Goodman) and his CINPLAN land development bill pun willfully intended, Im sure. But even though Evan may be unimaginative, it still manages to be, well, kind of inspirational.
The secret is simplicity. Director Tom Shadyac keeps the film on target with its message, and never loses sight of the films stars no, not the animals (although baboons do bring the yucks!) the actors.
Carells comedic timing is perfect here as he screams, hollers and scrunches up his face at every turn. He portrays Evan with a balance of jokes and physical comedy a 21st century Don Knotts that, while not personally appealing, matches the films tone beautifully.
Carell also evokes a serious side that marries well to Lauren Graham and the films underlying message of love and family. And, of course, Freeman is the most perfect cinematic incarnation of God since George Burns.
Doubtlessly someone will take umbrage with the films unapologetic (and frankly refreshing) family and allegorical tones, but to do so would be to expect more out of Evan than it purports to be: a simple, moral family comedy.
True, it is not as inventive or well-written as last years family opus, The Astronaut Farmer, but Evan does work; a throwback to those Sunday night Disney movies. Little films that use laughs to remind us of the more important things in life, and there is nothing wrong with that.
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