[Screen It]

(2007) (Steve Carell, Morgan Freeman) (PG)

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Comedy: A newly elected Congressman finds his personal and professional life disrupted when he gets the message from God to build an ark.
Buffalo TV news anchor Evan Baxter (STEVE CARELL) has just been elected to Congress, and thus moves to the suburbs of Virginia with his wife, Joan (LAUREN GRAHAM), and their three sons, Dylan (JOHNNY SIMMONS), Jordan (GRAHAM PHILLIPS), and Ryan (JIMMY BENNETT).

On Capitol Hill, the freshman congressman is served by executive assistant Rita (WANDA SYKES), chief of staff Marty (JOHN MICHAEL HIGGINS) and enthusiastic employee Eugene (JONAH HILL). They're all excited when Evan is chosen by powerful committee chairman Congressman Chuck Long (JOHN GOODMAN) to collaborate on a bill, and everything seems to be going his way to fulfill his campaign motto to make a change in the world.

But then God (MORGAN FREEMAN) comes calling, first through a series of seemingly coincidental signs, all of which lead to the Biblical story where God calls on Noah to build an ark. Evan thinks the stress of his new job has gotten the best of him, but when the signs continue and then God finally shows Himself, Evan realizes it's all too serious.

From that point on, and as his hair and beard start growing, animals start arriving two by two, and everyone thinks he's gone crazy or at least is having a severe midlife crisis, Evan starts building the ark.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
You have to pity the TV meteorologist (okay, you really don't, but play along for the sake of argument). They're rarely thanked or congratulated when they get the forecast right, but they always hear about it -- and then some -- when they miss the mark and it ends up raining on someone's parade.

Much of their work is highly scientific nowadays, but back before the dawn of satellites, it was more of a guessing game, even using things such as the farmer's almanac. And way back when, it mostly meant relying on the gods or God Himself. In fact, you could pretty much say that Noah was the first weatherman, getting his forecast from above, and boy, did he prepare for the rainy season.

That's why I'm surprised at the storyline route taken by those responsible for "Evan Almighty." In it, Steve Carell plays a Buffalo TV newscaster who's just been elected to Congress, but then gets the message from God that he's essentially to be the second coming of Noah. He's naturally skeptical at first, but in true "Field of Dreams" approach, he perseveres anyway in a "if you build it, the flood will come" fashion.

For those thinking the premise and title sound familiar, that's because this is the loose sequel to and continuation of "Bruce Almighty," the 2003 box office hit. With Morgan Freeman reprising his role as God but Jim Carrey MIA, returning director Tom Shadyac and screenwriter Steve Oedekerk turned to Carell to take his humorous (not to mention scene stealing and star-making) supporting role into and turn it into the title character here.

Yet, there's a problem. While Carell can be quite funny (see "The 40-Year-Old Virgin"), and seems a good choice for his exaggeratedly incredulous reactions to what occurs to him, he needs the proper funny material to fuel his talents. Unfortunately, the best the filmmakers can offer is a series of running gags (bird droppings on him and others, sudden Noah style beard and hair growth, etc.) where the laughs diminish proportionally to the number of times the jokes are used.

The biggest problem is that most of the inspired material was tapped in the first film, mainly related to Carrey's character suddenly having God's unlimited powers as well as His busy workload (what with answering all of the world's prayers, etc.). With that out of the way, what we're left with is the "no one believes God wants me to build an ark" material, although, strangely enough, they seem to have no problem with all of the non-indigenous, two-by-two wildlife pairings that just so happen to hang out around the house or downtown D.C.

That's coupled with a subplot and secondary characters related to the protag's freshman times on Capitol Hill. The latter offers nothing more than setting up Wanda Sykes (as the executive assistant) to deliver various one-liner quips (some funnier than others), as well as cursory at best, bad politician and pro environment material.

Maybe they were concerned with comparisons to "Groundhog Day," but I would have had Evan Baxter demoted from newscaster to weatherman (any number of funny scenes could have led to that, including from the first film), only to have the Noah bit then arises (both on and off the air). That's just the screenwriter in me imagining a better way to have handled the material that just isn't that amusing and gets a bit too self-righteous toward the end from both sides of the political fence.

Without much in the way of creative funny material, Shadyac resorts to the old cinematic stand-by and sign of desperation -- shots of animals doing human type things. While that's obviously somewhat appropriate for the plot (with the twist being that some of them assist in the ark building), it's lackluster at best in terms of engaging the viewer or delivering the laughs (although I suppose little kids might find it amusing).

In fact, all it seems to have done (along with the climatic, "let's flood DC" opening of the floodgates) is drive the film's production budget into the stratosphere (what with digitally creating the animals that couldn't be wrangled in person), resulting in rumors of this being the most expensive comedy ever made.

With Carell resorting to too many of his previously seen exaggerated mannerisms and reactions, and Freeman doing the soothing and smooth-talking God bit again, one repeatedly hopes that someone in the cast will step up and pick up the comedic slack. Beyond Sykes, though, Goodman can't do anything with his obviously corrupt Congressman character. Lauren "I'm No Longer a Gilmore" Graham is forgettable as the concerned wife, as are those playing their three kids who are so indistinguishable I think only one of them is even mentioned by name.

Featuring far too many musical montages (with period songs), not enough laughs or even chuckles, and too much reliance on special effects and clearly not enough on the plot, "Evan Almighty" is mostly benign enough for the entire family, but turns out to be anything but a heavenly comedy. It rates as a 3 out of 10.

Reviewed June 16, 2007 / Posted June 22, 2007

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