COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Steve Carell is no comedic genius. He manages the average-Joe persona well, and pulls off a plastic smile as a congressman or news anchor with great ease and familiarity. Through these unremarkable yet sufficient skills he turns “Evan Almighty” into a barely adequate comedy.
The pseudo-sequel is considered the second in what is being called the Almighty series. The original “Bruce Almighty” was a wildly successful 2003 summer blockbuster for star Jim Carrey as the film bankrolled about $250 million. Coming off the success of “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and NBC’s “The Office,” Carell gave the makers of Bruce an obvious in-house successor when Carrey dropped out of the project. For the second in this series, the Buffalo, N.Y., TV news anchor Evan Baxter takes his scene-stealing antics to the leading role.
Yes it is the same Baxter who, as described in a brief montage, won seat in Congress for New York on the promise he will “change the world.” To grant his first ever prayer, Morgan Freeman, reprising his role as the Lord himself, gives the reluctant Baxter the intimidating task of building a wooden ark. Just as quickly as Baxter gets acclimated to his new job and fellow colleagues including Congressman Long (John Goodman, “The Big Lebowski”), Baxter also must adjust to his new responsibility as a modern-day Noah.
Much of the comedy, similar to that in the first “Almighty,” is situational comedy and sight gags. For instance, through a series of hints Baxter is led to Genesis 6:14: “So make yourself an ark of gopher wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out.” Like Bruce Nolan’s license plate “ALMITY-1,” Baxter’s new plate includes the number 614. His clock is mysteriously set to always go off at 6:14 in the morning, and a new bill he is supposed to read is also numbered 6-14. There are other word games director and Falls Church, Va., native Tom Shadyac (“Bruce Almighty”) plays with, such as “1-800-Go-4-WOOD” and ARK, “Acts of Random Kindness.” Much of the comedy comes from Carell acting as a walking bird tree, as well as the silly way in which nearly every kind of animal follows him casually through the streets of Washington and Northern Virginia.
Unlike in the first film, Shadyac cannot rely on Jim Carrey’s unparalleled wit and charm to fill in the gaps. Phrases such as “B-E-A-Utiful” and “that’s the way the cookie crumbles” stayed with the public for months after the film was released. No such snappy humor comes from Carell. When playing an extraordinarily dimwitted character — such as Brick from “Anchorman” or Michael Scott from “The Office” — Carell has proven his ability to be hilarious. As a straight-man lead, as he was in “Virgin,” Carell is only slightly above average.
More disappointing than Carell, is actress Lauren Graham, playing the role of Baxter’s trophy wife Joan. With “Gilmore Girls” on the way out, Graham needs to make a stronger splash in Hollywood if she expects to hang around. Lucky for the film, Wanda Sykes (“The New Adventures of Old Christine”)and Goodman were around to pick up the slack in the supporting acting department.
In Bruce, the cheesy lesson Freeman teaches is that people have the ability to perform miracles in everyday life, and they shouldn’t sit around waiting for some higher power to change our lives. As opposed to an individualistic morale lecture, Evan is more of a family flick. Freeman teaches us about the importance of faith and family and its value over working just for a profit.
This film isn’t exactly divine, but for families and fans of “Bruce” or “Virgin,” “Evan Almighty” will still be a pleasure to watch. Besides, there’s nothing like a little bit of water, or a flood, to cool you down this summer.
Article courtesy of The Diamondback at the University of Maryland