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Evan Almighty takes the biblical story of Noah, modernizes it, and then tells it the way Christian church leaders probably wish it was. You know, the warm, fluffy, pop-up book version with cute, fuzzy animals and none of that whole wrath of god, weeping and gnashing of teeth stuff that’s actually in it. Also missing is my favorite part of the biblical story: Noah’s drunken, nude, post-flood celebration. For Evan Steve Carell keeps his clothes on (most of the time) and goes for friendly, family-oriented, PG comedy instead.
If you saw Bruce Almighty, you probably remember Evan Baxter, Bruce’s rival news reporter and the unfortunate recipient of the god-empowered Bruce’s wrath. Evan Almighty takes that character, and pretends as if the previous movie in which he was introduced never existed. Morgan Freeman is back as God, but the similarities between original and sequel end there. Bruce Almighty was a gleefully PG-13, somewhat adult comedy about a guy gifted with omnipotence. Evan Almighty is a carefully PG family movie, geared towards being the kind of film church groups take their kids to after Sunday school. It has nothing to do with Bruce, and it’s probably better for it.
Bruce Almighty didn’t need a sequel, and it doesn’t get one. Instead, screenwriter Steve Oedekerk takes the original movie’s concept and simply does something different with it. The film begins with reporter Evan Baxter retiring from the news game to serve in public office. He’s just been elected to the United States Congress, so he packs up his wife and three sons to move to Washington. Evan’s wife is the churchy type, so before his first day in politics she suggests he pray for heavenly help. Evan does, and asks God to help him fulfill his vague campaign promise to “change the world.” God hears him, and decides he’d rather have Evan build an ark.
Soon things start getting weird for Evan. He’s followed by animals everywhere he goes, his beard grows out an alarming rate, and this fatherly old gentlemen who looks exactly like Morgan Freeman appears on his front lawn claiming to be God. If only God were more like Morgan Freeman, religion might be a more attractive lifestyle option. As he was in Bruce Almighty, Morgan is simply brilliant as the all-powerful, warm, fatherly, heavenly creator and after a few miracles and some good advice, he convinces Evan he’s the real deal. The film follows Evan around for laughs as he struggles to keep his position in Congress while God plays pranks designed to nudge him back towards getting to work on that ark. Eventually Evan is left with no choice but to start building.
Sticking Steve Carell in awkward situations is a guaranteed way to get laughs, and the film does plenty of that. Things don’t go nearly as well however, when it tries to shove out life advice along with the gags. Even for a movie in which God is a main character, Evan Almighty lays the religion on awfully thick. It’s pretty clearly made with Christians in mind, which I suppose is a smart move if you’ve seen the box office receipts for Passion of the Christ. If you’re not already a fan of Jesus and his dad going in, you’ll still enjoy it as long as you can convince yourself you’re just watching another fantasy movie. Shouldn’t be hard, since when it comes to doctrine the movie’s not exactly biblically correct anyway.
I’ve always been a big fan of the PG family comedy. There’s a place in this world for both good kid-friendly entertainment and gritty, more significant R-rated stuff. Evan Almighty isn’t exactly Swiss Family Robinson, but it is a warm, funny, mostly harmless film you can take your kids to and enjoy right along with them. There’s little doubt that’s what director Tom Shadyac was going for with this one, and he succeeds.