Hey, everyone. ”Moriarty” here. Tom Shadyac makes big crowd-pleasing movies, and I’m sure EVAN ALMIGHTY will be the same way. I know, I know... he’s going to get savaged by the talkbackers reflexively, but I’m interested in this one because it’s Steve Carrell, and I hope it’s a solid showcase for the comic gifts he’s been refining from film to film. Shadyac is also a filmmaker who takes his faith seriously, something that’s not “cool” in the conventional sense, but I respect the fact that he’s trying to tackle these subjects in the blockbuster medium. That can’t be easy, but it sounds like he tried again with this one. Here’s “Opie” with his take on it:
Hello again, Aint-it-Cool guys. Opie here. I haven’t written in a while, although not because I haven’t had the opportunity. I sent in some reviews from Sundance a couple of years in a row, plus other assorted stuff from the odd screening here and there. Sometimes you’ve posted it, sometimes not. Before I even attended this screening, I knew I was going to write a review for it. Why? Because they wouldn’t tell us what the goddamned movie was. Anything that secret has to be worthy of Ain’t it Cool, right? According to the test screening folks that were handing out tickets, the movie would be a sequel, by a major studio, that came out this summer, but that’s all they would say. Oookay… In the few days before the screening, I went imdb and compiled a list, with mounting excitement. What could it be? Shrek? Spider-Man? Pirates??? Harry Potter?? Could I be that lucky? Apparently not. So it’s Evan Almighty, we are told just seconds before the lights go down, a movie which could barely be called a sequel. But I like Steve Carell, I like Laura Graham, I thought the first one was okay, so let’s rock ‘n roll. I can buy my tickets and see Pirates on May 25th, like everyone else. So what is the story? Evan Baxter, the newscaster from Bruce Almighty, has inexplicably been elected to the U.S. Congress, something I think is surely a first for any news anchorman, and moves to Washington with his family under the banner of his campaign slogan, “Change the World.” When he gets there and realizes, as all earnest politicians must, that changing the world within the confines of the United States system of government is pretty much impossible, and sees that the demands of this futile career (Goddamn it already, with the workaholic dads who let down their kids in Act One!!!! Stop it, Hollywood, just knock it off!!!), coupled with the new house, and new neighborhood, are driving his family further apart, he prays, awkwardly, and at his wife’s suggestion, for God to help bring his family closer together. But God (again played with Morgan Freeman, obviously having a great time) quickly answers. Soon, shipments of wood and tools are being delivered to his home, and his alarm clock, his television, and other assorted signs begin to gently nudge him towards Genesis 3:16. When he digs out a dusty bible, he finds that it reads: Make for yourself an ark of gopher wood with rooms in it, and make it safe from the water inside and out. (Ironically, while writing this passage, I myself had to go dig around the house for an old dusty Bible, and when I found the wording of the verse, it was differently worded that in the movie. So a quick internet search got me the closest thing to the quote in the movie. Also ironically, the film never addresses what happens in the Bible after the flood, where God promises, in Genesis 9:11 – “I will establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.” Then God invents the rainbow.) So, it seems pretty obvious that God wants him to build an ark. As if he needed more convincing, God shows up and verbally tells him to build an ark, and that a flood is coming. The he provides him with a copy of “Ark Building for Dummies.” Okay then. Evan still resists, of course, but when animals start following him wherever he goes, his hair and beard grow to Grizzly Adams proportions almost overnight, and more wood begins to show up, he finally relents, and his family pitches in. There’s more to the story than that, of course, and that is part of the problem I had with this movie. I haven’t even touched on the whole Congressional side of the plot. The film’s subplots don’t quite fit together as parts of the same movie. The film isn’t about Evan becoming a better Congressman, or a better father, or a better Christian, or changing the world like he promised to, although you get the impression that this is what the filmmakers wanted to simultaneously occur. And does God really care about stopping a land-use bill in Congress? Remember the end of “Liar, Liar?” Same director, Tom Shadyac. Jim Carrey has won his case, despite the fact that he can’t lie, but then he has a change of heart when Jennifer Tilly gets too greedy, makes an outburst in court about the importance of good fathers, and gets thrown in jail, setting up the 3rd Act? All of the story elements flowed together seamlessly into the same scene, and completed the character’s story arc at the same time, as he was dragged out of court screaming, “I’m Jose Canseco!!!!” Okay, not brilliant, but in storytelling terms, effective. That doesn’t quite gel in Evan Almighty’s climax, nor in its resolution. Evan learning to trust in God’s ultimate plan happens independent of his family coming together, which happens independently of all of the goings-on in Congress. At the end, some pretty huge events occur, though not the ones you’d expect, but their impact on the world at large isn’t explained, and it really should be. These things happen live, in front of millions of witnesses, and are carried by major news agencies. Would there not be worldwide panic? Mass religious conversions? This is still a work-in-progress, so they still have time to shore up some of the storytelling elements, and make them at least seem like they came from the same movie. Now, with all of that being said, I am going to wholeheartedly recommend the movie. There is one thing I neglected to mention: It is riotously funny. Steve Carell alternates between the broad and the subtle masterfully. He can wring every last drop of humor out of sheer anxiety, evidenced by a brilliant scene inside a congressman’s office where the fish in the fish tank all crowd around his body. He moves from one side, to the other, and they follow him, collecting around his head as he nervously tries to hide this fact from the congressman, played by John Goodman. It’s like the scene in Naked Gun between Leslie Neilson and Ricardo Mantalban, only subtler, and funnier. The film also does well to capitalize on Carell’s talent for base, cheap physical gags, most of them, as we would expect, pain and/or hair related (Kelly Clarkson!!!!). The supporting cast is peppered with great supporting players like the aforementioned Graham, Goodman and Freeman, and also Jonah Hill, John Michael Higgins, and Wanda Sykes, who simply by not being annoying, has reached the achievement of her career. The fact that she is actually funny, and repeatedly, was perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the evening. I also suspect that this film will be popular with families, for the humor, the cute animals, and the overall wholesomeness of the content. This one’s not even going to get the “13” on its PG rating, and that’s actually refreshing. And, despite the Biblical contradiction noted above, church groups are going to love this one, because it plays straight down the line with its theology and doesn’t water it down for mass consumption. Also, I’m a big fan of Morgan Freeman’s line about prayer: “If you pray for patience, do you think God just… gives you patience? Or does he give you opportunities to be patient? If you pray for courage, do you think he just gives you courage, or opportunities to be courageous?” Nice stuff. And delivered with that Godlike Morgan Freeman charm, too. The speech goes on, but I won’t print it all here. I’ve tried to be pretty careful about spoilers thus far. So, all in all, it’s a splendid family comedy, with something for just about everyone, and nothing that will offend anyone, either. Sure it’s got some story problems, but you go to movies like this more for the concept and the laughs than for the story, don’t you? Have a good summer, everybody. Opie, out.